Birth numbers suggest female-fetus abortions more common in Asian-Canadian communities: study
By Derek Abma, Postmedia News - April 17, 2012 9:52 AM
Newborn babies rest at a hospital in the northern Indian city of Lucknow in this July 11, 2009, file photo.
A Canadian Medical Journal study suggests that Indo-Canadian mothers may be aborting female fetuses
more than other groups, particularly for second and third babies.
Photograph by: Pawan Kumar, Reuters
A study showing that South Korean- and Indian-born women in Canada have an unusually high proportion of boys born as second babies is shining a spotlight on the issue of sex selection through abortion.
The study, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, looked at all non-multiple births in Ontario between the years 2002 and 2007, which totalled 766,688.
It found the ratio of boys to girls was generally about 1.05 to one for mothers of all ethnic backgrounds on their first births.
This ratio stayed fairly consistent in subsequent births for mothers of most origins.
However, significant variations were found among mothers born in India and South Korea on their second children.
Indian-born mothers were found to have more boys to girls at a ratio of 1.11, and it was 1.2 for South Korean-born mothers.
That ratio fell back into a normal range for South Korean mothers after their second children. However, for Indian-born mothers, it rose to 1.36 on third babies and was at 1.25 for births beyond that.
"Our findings raise the possibility that couples originating from India may be more likely than Canadian-born couples to use prenatal sex determination and terminate a second or subsequent pregnancy if the fetus is female," says the study, which was led by Dr. Joel Ray, a physician at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
Ray said it is hard to interpret why the South Korean numbers did not retain significance when assessing births after a mother's second child. He noted that mothers of Korean descent represented just 0.48 per cent of births in the study and lacked "statistical power."
The study raises more questions about a controversial subject — one the same journal approached in January when it published an editorial arguing that parents should not be informed of the sex of their fetuses until after 30 weeks of pregnancy.
This was because of what the editorial described as a tendency among immigrants from various countries in Asia — including India and China — to abort female fetuses due to the importance placed on having male offspring in their cultures.
Despite the conclusions that, he knows, many will draw from this latest study, Ray isn't drawing them himself.
"I want to be a guy who's sort of open-minded about possibilities," Ray said. "We don't have the termination rates, nor has anyone else documented those among the different immigrant groups."
Ray said he plans to study abortion practices specifically among different cultural groups to get a better idea of what is happening.
"What if Indian women, for example, had biological tendencies to lose their third pregnancy naturally . . . and, through some biological mechanism, lose females as fetuses more than males."
However, Mahvish Parvez, project co-ordinator for the Edmonton-based Indo-Canadian Women's Association, said sex-selection through abortion is something that regularly happens among people of Indian decent in Canada, though she did not have any specific numbers.
Indian culture places significant importance on male offspring for a number of reasons, Parvez said. This includes the fact men can carry on the family name, are most likely to take care of parents when they're old, and that having female children can be expensive because dowries — money paid by a bride's family to the groom's family — are still common, even for those living in Canada, she said.
"Even though they know (sex-selective abortions are) not right, they would go ahead and do it because of all these other reasons," said Parvez, whose organization discourages such practices among Indian immigrants.
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