Murtaza Haider


It is taking place even in Canada. Parents are aborting female fetuses because they prefer sons instead. The practice, however, is more pronounced amongst immigrant parents from India.


Female feticide has been known to exist in India for decades. The 2011 Indian Census revealed that only 914 female births were recorded for every 1000 male births because parents would often terminate pregnancies when the fetus was a female. Immigrants from India, however, have brought along the practice to Canada.


A recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal ( Joel G. Ray, David A. Henry, Marcelo L. Urquia. Sex ratios among Canadian live born infants of mothers from different countries. Canada Medical Association Journal.  June 2012.) revealed that women born in India were delivering more male children than the rest, especially in cases where the women had given birth twice before. Dr. Joel G. Ray and others studied 766,688 live births recorded in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, and concluded that “couples originating from India may be more likely than Canadian born to use prenatal sex determination and terminate a second or subsequent pregnancy if the fetus is female.”


During 2002 and 2007, 31,978 women born in India delivered a child in Ontario. Another 18,018 women born in Pakistan also gave birth in Ontario. Compared to Canadian-born women and those born elsewhere, women born in India have been giving birth to males much more so than the rest. These differences were however more pronounced for subsequent pregnancies.


Getting desperate with time


The number of children delivered in the past do not influence the male-to-female ratio of the newborn for women born in Canada. However, the birth data from Ontario suggests that the preference for a male child does impact birth outcomes for women from South Asia in their subsequent pregnancies

For women who have not given birth before, the sex ratio of children born to women of Indian origin is the same as the rest. The male-to-female ratio for children born to women who have not given birth before is around 1.05 for Canadian born women. The same ratio is 1.04 for women born in India and Pakistan. However, the offspring’s male-to-female ratio increases significantly for women born in India when they are delivering their second or third child. The Indian-born women gave birth to 136 males for every 100 females when they delivered their third child in Canada. The presence of two prior children (most likely females) is assumed to have contributed to sex selection of the third child.


Women born in Pakistan also give birth to more males than females while delivering the third child. However, the difference is not statistically significant from the one recorded for women born in Canada.


(Normal sex ratio at birth is 105 males and 100 females. Because males are a bit more likely to die than females more males are born such that eventually there are equal number of males and females. More than 105 males for 100 female birth means that the female fetus had been aborted. The Ratio of male to female for the third birth among Indians in Canada  is 136 males for 100 females and for Pakistanis 108  males for 100 females. Modified from the data in the Table)



India’s problem becomes Canada’s


The skewed sex ratio has been known to exist in India for decades. According to BBC’s Geeta Panday, 8 million fetuses have been aborted in India during 2001 and 2011. The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, calls infant feticide a “national shame”. The shameful practice however has crossed the Atlantic to Canada.


The BBC report suggests that the female feticide in India spread with the advent of ultrasound technology, which made it convenient for the parents to determine sex of the fetus. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1974 encouraged this practice. The Indian government finally reacted to the issue by enacting the Prenatal Determination Test Act in 1994, which declared sex-selective abortions illegal. The Act, though enacted, has not been enforced to have a meaningful impact. The male-to-female ratio of newborns in India has worsened from 1.06 in 1991 to 1.09 in 2011. It is estimated that there are 40,000 ultrasound clinics registered in India with several thousand additional unregistered facilities performing sex determination tests.


One would assume that the urban and literate parents in India would not indulge in this reprehensible practice. However, the entire opposite is true. Stephen Dale of IDRC in Canada reported that male-to-female ratio for children born to Indian mothers with grade 10 or higher education was 1.46 compared to 1.15 for illiterate mothers. Quoting a 2006 study from Lancent Stephen further revealed that the male-to-female ratio of children born to Indian women who had given birth to two daughters in the past was 1.39. The same ratio for women who had given birth to one female child in the past was 1.32.


The desire to have a son has led many to engage in the heinous act of female feticide. Dr. Prabhat Jha in Toronto estimated that 10 million female fetuses were aborted in India during 1985 and 2005. While poverty and cultural norms, such as dowry to marry off daughters, may be instrumental in sex-selective abortions in India, it is rather sad to see the same being practiced in Canada by Indian emigrants whose economic welfare is superior to those in India.


Bad rap for Pakistani parents


While female feticide is not common amongst the Pakistan-born Canadian immigrants, they still struggle with the image problem, especially when it relates to how they treat their daughters. Several violent incidents perpetrated by immigrant family members against young women have been widely reported in the Canadian media. In the name of honour, some immigrant parents have committed the most dishonourable acts. Aqsa Pervez, a teenager born to immigrants from Pakistan, was brutally murdered by her parents near Toronto. Later, an Afghan family was convicted of murdering three young daughters. The media and the experts who testified in the court blamed the religious beliefs as catalysts behind these vicious murders. I believe culture also plays a much larger role.


The so-called honour killings are equally (if not more) prevalent amongst non-Muslims in the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab. The most known case of honour killing in Canada is that of a young Sikh woman from Surrey, BC, who was murdered in India for marrying a young man from a different caste. Female feticide is also most pronounced in Haryana and Punjab where fewer than 850 girls for every 1000 boys between the ages of 0 and 6 were reported in the 2011 Census.


When it comes to female feticide, I believe religion does play a role. While emigrants from India and Pakistan do share strong cultural backgrounds, the Canadian immigrants of Pakistani origin would avoid abortion, which is against their religious beliefs. No such prohibitions restrict Indian emigrants in Canada.

Canada has been a welcoming place for immigrants where the newcomers are encouraged to practice and celebrate their cultures and religious beliefs. This welcome however does not cover violence against daughters, born or otherwise, by their parents.


(Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at


(slightly modified to comply with Bulletin format. Ed.)

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