Skip to main content

Gendercide: The Missing Women?

Gendercide: The Missing Women?

Gendercide: The Missing Women?


Considerably larger male than female populations in some countries in Asia as well as in Europe have led to concerns in the European Parliament about the discrimination against young girls that could lead to sex selective practices such as neglect, sex selective abortions, or even infanticide. This study by the Overseas Development Institute, UK (project lead) and Ecologic Institute provides the European Parliament with an overview of the causes, current trends, consequences, and policy challenges of sex selective practices, focusing particularly on China and India. It provides some recommendations for the European Parliament as to how these challenges can be addressed. The study is available for download.

The world may be "missing" as many as 100 million women, stated Amartya Sen in 1990 referring to the sex-selective practices favoring males that are practiced in several countries, primarily in Central and South-East Asia. These practices have shifted from infanticide, practiced for many decades, to "modern" techniques such as sex selective abortions, to secure male offspring. Countries in which these practices occur often tend to have ratios of males to females at birth that are higher than the biologically normal rate of 102 to 106 males per 100 females. In China, for example, 118 boys were born for every 100 girls in 2011 and in India the figure was 109 boys per 100 girls. The distorted ratios that mainly occur for second or third born children have persisted despite the existence of legislation against sex-selective abortion and female infanticide.

The authors of the study discuss three main factors that contributed to growing sex imbalance in the late 20th century:

  1. fertility rates fell in Asia (especially in China after it introduced the one-child policy);
  2. ultrasound became widely available and made it possible to determine the sex of a fetus; and
  3. policy was unable to change the deeply rooted cultural preference for sons.

The dominance of men over women in these countries can have negative effects on society. For men, it becomes harder to find partners, which can in turn cause mental anxiety and lead to social exclusion. Some studies have also found evidence that a male-dominant population has greater incidence of crime, human rights violations, prostitution, drug trafficking and sexually transmitted diseases. The mistreatment of women and the pressure they face for having male offspring has also led to higher female suicide rates in some of these countries.

Despite these negative consequences, sex selection practices are difficult to eradicate due to their profitability for medical staff and suppliers of equipment, and the deeply rooted views on the supremacy of male sex in these cultures. Nonetheless, the authors are optimistic that sex-selective practices in China and India have already reached their peak and are starting to decrease in response to international attention, improved opportunities for women and, to a certain extent, legislation.

At the end of the study, the authors recommend the European Parliament to highlight the topic of women’s rights in its sub-committees, especially those focusing on development and cooperation, as well as in their country-specific delegations in order to make the topic more relevant across various policy fields.

The results of this study were presented to the European Parliament in June 2012.

The study [pdf, 885 kB, English, French] is available for download.

More content from this project

Karin Beese
Project ID
developing countries, development policy, gender, gendercide
India, China