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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 10:56 GMT
Britain's unwanted girls
By Sanjiv Buttoo
BBC Asian Network

Cultural pressure to have a boy is leading some British women of Asian origin to travel to India for abortions to avoid having a girl.

Among them is Meena, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

She describes what led her to do such a thing.

Reconstruction: 'Meena' is an actress
Reconstruction: 'Meena' went to India to abort her daughter

"As soon as you're pregnant everyone sits there and looks at you and constantly says: 'you're going to have a boy. We'll do this and we'll do that and we'll have celebrations'," she said.

But when the child is actually born and it's a girl, everyone around you feels disappointed - they say: 'well, never mind'."

Meena, an office worker in her 30s, is from a middle-class Punjabi family and was born and brought up in the UK.

She has three daughters under 13. But says she has been made to feel a failure for not producing a son.

Meena says Indian culture can still exert a huge pressure on women to have boys - to carry the family name and because girls are expensive - and that the pressure exists on Indian women living in Britain too.

"It is all up to the husband and it's usually the husband's side of the family who - you know - are putting the pressure on."

Sex test

It is really not a nice feeling when you've had your baby and you are really proud of her and they turn around and dismiss her as just another mistake
So last year, when Meena became pregnant for the fourth time, she and her husband decided to go to India to find out what sex their unborn child was.

"We were worried about what would happen if it was another girl, because obviously it has consequences on the family as well as financial implications, so we decided to see what we were having this time."

Meena was able to look up the best gynaecologists in India on the internet.

"Once we approached them, they seemed fairly understanding when they realised that we had three other daughters already and we wanted to know what the sex of this child was."

After Meena and her husband had the test in Delhi, they were told it was another girl. They thought the burden and pressure would be too much, so decided to terminate.

"Personally it was very upsetting for me. I didn't really want my other children to know, and I don't mean it in a bad way, but my husband seemed rather blasť about it.

I think I felt bad because I knew I shouldn't be doing this - for the reasons I was doing it - it wasn't nice."

Female foeticide

Sex selective abortion - female foeticide, as it is known - has been illegal in India since the early 1980s. Having a scan to find out the sex is also against the law.

But the law has simply forced the practice underground and UN figures state that 750,000 girls are aborted every year in India.

Now it appears that some Indian women in Britain are travelling from the UK to India to have abortions.

Meena says that she is not alone - she knows other women who have terminated girls. But it is a taboo subject.

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"I've heard of other people who have done it, but if you start showing interest in things like that, especially when you've had three daughters yourself, people will start thinking 'Oh yes, she must be interested in doing that as well,' so you try and keep away from it and deal with it yourself."

Huge pressure

I don't think I would ever do this to my daughters. Obviously they're not going to stay with me - they're going to get married and who knows what pressure they'll be put under - but they'll certainly never get it off me
For Meena, it got harder after her sister-in-law produced boys. In a Punjabi family, how highly you are thought of frequently depends on the children you have.

"I believe that's why I'm getting more and more pressure: if she can do it, I should be able to do it."

Meena has four sisters.

"I know they do sometimes think 'her mother was like that as well'.

It is really not a nice feeling when you've had your baby and you are really proud of her and they turn around and dismiss her as just another mistake."

It is not just the family that applies pressure. Meena says it is a preoccupation amongst her friends - her generation - as well.

I do have regrets. I don't know why that particular daughter ended up having no part of my life. I had no choice
"I look around and think the people who are doing this, you're women as well, surely you must have gone through this?

"I don't think I would ever do this to my daughters. Obviously they're not going to stay with me - they're going to get married and who knows what pressure they'll be put under - but they'll certainly never get it off me."

'No choice'

It has been a year since Meena had her abortion. She still thinks about how the child would have been now, how she would have fitted in with the family and with her sisters.

FACTS AND FIGURES
Female infanticide occurs in 80% of Indian states
Worst-affected states include wealthiest areas
927 girls born for every 1,000 boys
Infant mortality rate: 60/1,000
Source: Unicef

"I do have regrets. I don't know why that particular daughter ended up having no part of my life. I had no choice."

She has not decided whether she is going to have another child - it depends on how much pressure she is put under.

But Meena is scared. She is worried for her health, and how going through another abortion will affect her. Her eyes are sad.

"If we decide that we're going to try for another child, I know that I'm going to have to go through the same thing again."



SEE ALSO
Girls at risk amid India's prosperity
18 Aug 07 |  South Asia

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