According to the United Nations, the world's population hit seven billion on Oct. 31 of this year. To mark the occasion, a number of jurisdictions and organizations declared specific babies to be the world's 'seventh billion.' The children's charity Plan International used the symbolic opportunity to highlight a very serious and underreported issue: the declining child sex ratio in countries such as India and China, and elsewhere..
Throughout history the natural human sex ratio at birth has been 1.05 boys for every girl. Yet the 2011 CIA World Factbook sex ratio at birth figures show the worldwide ratio is now 1.07 boys for every girl and dramatically more skewed in the following seven countries: Albania (1.11); Azerbaijan (1.11); Georgia (1.11); Vietnam (1.11); Armenia (1.12); India (1.12); China (1.13).
Efforts to control the growth of the world's population and a desire in many cultures to have a son have been enabled by new technologies that determine the gender of a fetus and allow parents to dramatically change in the sex ratio over the last 30 years.
Mara Hvistendahl, author of Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, has estimated that since the 1970s approximately 163 million girls have not been born due to sex selective abortions. In other words, couples waited until an ultrasound could determine the sex of the fetus and aborted because the fetus was female, resulting in 163 million girls not being born over the last 30 years.
In the world's two most populous countries, India and China, the practice of sex-selective abortions is both illegal and where it is most prevalent. In an effort to prevent the termination of female fetuses, ultrasound technicians are forbidden from disclosing gender. That said, it would be hard to charge someone for giving a congratulatory slap on the back to a man who will soon have a son, or to find fault with head shakes or nods to parents during pre-natal screenings.
China and India are just beginning to come to terms with what will become an ongoing social problem as a surplus of men are unable to find brides. There are growing concerns of increased abuse, forced marriages, violence, sex trafficking and other crimes specifically against women as a result of increased competition among men.
The widescale abortion of female fetuses and apparent acceptance of valuing girls' lives as worth less than boys does not bode well for improving women's rights and striving for equality throughout the world.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said of the importance of women being able to fully participate in society:
"And yet research is also clear that when girls reach their full potential, through improved status, better health care, and education, it is the most effective development tool for society as a whole. As a country's primary enrollment rate for girls increases, so too does its gross domestic product per capita."
Plan International has launched a campaign called 'Let Girls Be Born' in a number of Indian states with the hopes of raising social awareness about the negatives a gender imbalance has on women and society, in addition to taking a number of steps to discourage the practice of 'female feticide.'
In China the government has begun taking a number of additional steps to attempt increased enforcement of existing laws to discourage medical professionals from continuing to enable sex-selective abortions by implementing a number of measures including increased fines and surveillance and the potential to withdraw the medical licenses of repeat offenders.
It is important that the developed countries recognize the impacts population control efforts have had in a number of developing countries where they have been employed without sufficient economic and social development progress.
The world cannot afford to ignore the wide-ranging negative impacts widespread sex-selective abortions will continue to have in the name of population control.
Those arguing for and funding population control in developing countries should preach successful methods that were practised in existing developed countries on similar timelines. The consequence of failing to do so in a world with increased access to technology able to determine gender is partly responsible for the explosion of sex-selective abortions.
Improving the value of the role of women in society, ensuring access to better health care, education and economic participation are all steps that dramatically improved economic and social conditions in developed countries, while leading to a higher quality and longer lives, in addition to dramatically lower birth rates.