GBSS: Gender-Biased Sex Selection in India and China

By Megan Ekhaml

Gender-Biased Sex Selection. In layman’s terms: aborting a child based on sex alone. GBSS is most commonly practiced in India and China, where males are more highly valued than females.

Photo by Stefan Lins/

In China, the one-child policy has an enormous impact on the abortion rate. Since 1980, more than 336 million forced abortions were performed and more than 37 million girls disappeared because of GBSS.

The number of abortions from gender bias is causing an enormous imbalance in the ratio of men to women in China. It is expected that by the year 2020, 30 million Chinese men will not be able to find spouses. The higher ratio of men is also linked to higher rates of crime – China’s crime rate has doubled over the past twenty years.

GBSS is illegal in both China and India and has been for almost 20 years. In China, sonograms are legal, but it is illegal to tell soon-to-be parents the sex of their child.  If parents know, they are more likely to abort the pregnancy based on the sex of the child. One of every six girls is aborted, abandoned, or murdered. Midwives have been known to strangle the baby girl with her own umbilical cord.

Photo by JP Davidson/

India’s story is slightly different. Women are not considered culturally valuable, and they have monetary value attached to them – mainly in the form of a dowry. Males are considered a type of insurance policy because they help the family by working in the fields. Females, on the other hand, cannot work for as long as males can, and their dowries and weddings can cost families about $35,000. For perspective, the average yearly income for a lower-class Indian family is about $3,500. Sometimes women are murdered if their family does not pay a large enough dowry.

This discrepancy in money is a major factor in abortions and infanticide. In a case study from Gendercide Watch, one woman killed her infant daughter because she already another daughter and didn’t want the baby to go through the same suffering. The mother said she couldn’t afford another daughter. The woman starved her child for three days and then fed her a poisonous mixture of sap and castor oil.  The baby’s nose bled and she stopped crying and died.  Stories like these are commonplace among India’s poorer families.

Photo by Jeeheon/

Indian men have begun to import women into the country when they are looking for wives because there are not enough local women.

GBSS is a tragedy and is illegal. Yet cultural values still permit it as the norm. Programs have been developed to lower the rate of GBSS, but there has been no real change. The cultural perspective toward women must be changed to produce any long-term results.

(The photo of the Chinese girl is by Stefan Lins/
(The photo of the first Indian child is by JP Davidson/
(The photo of the second Indian girl is by Jeeheon/

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