Ten years ago, I wrote a four-part series about the horrific imbalance of boys and girls in India due to the rampant aborting of female fetuses. I spent three weeks in India tracking down doctors who were assisting in those abortions and activists who were trying to prevent them.
People kept on telling me that I needed to also check on whether female Indian immigrants to the United States were aborting their female children. I heard rumors that they were but I ran out of time and could not pursue that angle.
So I was glad to see that The Toronto Globe and Mail not only tackled the topic recently, but actually had some statistics to back it. However, the newspaper only told half of the story. As it said:
Fewer girls than boys are born to Indian women who immigrate to Canada, a skewed pattern driven by families whose mother tongue is Punjabi, according to a new study.
One of the most surprising findings of the study, to be published Monday in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada, is that the preference for boys does not diminish, regardless of how long women from India have lived in Canada.
“It’s counterintuitive,” said Marcelo Urquia, a research scientist at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Health Policy and lead author of the study. “We know that the longer immigrants are in Canada, the more likely they are to align to the host country.”
The longer they are in Canada? So western feminist values haven’t rubbed off at all? Are we sure that there is no religion ghost in this subject?
But for many Indian immigrants who express a strong desire for sons, the study found, the practice of sex selection remains entrenched. Women who already have two female children are most at risk for abortions in the second trimester, when parents can learn the sex of the fetus. The study builds on previous research led by Dr. Urquia that found a deficit in Canada of more than 4,400 girls over two decades.
The latest study shows that women born in India who already have two daughters gave birth to 192 baby boys in Ontario for every 100 girls. The sex ratios are so distorted, they cannot be explained by natural causes, Dr. Urquia said. Across the globe, by comparison, the odds of having a boy over a girl are slightly higher: 107 boys for every 100 girls.
The preference for boys among many Indian immigrants reveals underlying gender inequities and will not change without intervention, Dr. Urquia said.
In my research, I learned that the region north of Delhi (which includes Punjab) has the country’s highest abortion rates. Specifically, the Sikhs had the worst sex ratios, followed by the Jains and then the Hindus.
Meanwhile, Christians had the best ratios and in highly Christianized areas such as the southern state of Kerala, there were more women born than men. Kerala’s matrilineal family system among all religious groups also encouraged education and empowerment of women.
Still, here is a country of goddess worship where unborn baby girls are terminated.
As to the "why" of female feticide, that is a question this article didn’t pose. Did the reporter know which religions were represented by these immigrants and which ones these women belonged to?
One Hindu swami I interviewed blamed the caste system for the destruction of unborn women, adding that caste was a gross distortion of the Vedas, which are the oldest Hindu scriptures. The writer from the Globe didn’t have the luxury of a four-part series to explain the religious roots of these abortions, but couldn't she have mentioned that what these women brought to Canada was a culture -- in large part informed by their religion -- that was at the root of this trend?
Isn’t it strange that these immigrants would feel so beholden to the necessity of a son that enlightened Canadian values were of no influence in preventing abortions? Unfortunately, the Globe handled this article with amazing insensitivity. One accompanying column was written by a woman who airily said the number of abortions was of no concern to her but she wanted all women in Canada to be equal.
Another column by an Indian-Canadian woman also insisted on abortion remaining legal and shed little light on why her country women continue to abort girls when they’re living in a place where the culture is more female-welcoming. The inability of either columnist, not to mention the reporter, to explain the woman-hating attitudes behind these abortions without the usual preaching about "choice" was depressing.
Somewhere in Canada, female babies in a certain sub-culture are being aborted at alarming rates. Where were the voices from other Indian immigrants and especially their religious leaders on this? Why couldn't the reporter have looked into which religions and cultures exist in north India and why women from those places abort girls in such high numbers?
The story was assigned to a political reporter who didn't seem to know how to ask these questions. Sadly, the Globe doesn't appear to have a religion reporter on staff. They could have used one here.