Canada's missing daughters

Published Nov 07, 2012 05:18pm

It is taking place even in Canada. Parents are aborting female fetuses because they prefer sons instead. The practice, however, is more pronounced amongst immigrant parents from India.

Female feticide has been known to exist in India for decades. The 2011 Indian Census revealed that only 914 female births were recorded for every 1000 male births because parents would often terminate pregnancies when the fetus was a female. Immigrants from India, however, have brought along the practice to Canada.

A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed that women born in India were delivering more male children than the rest, especially in cases where the women had given birth twice before. Dr. Joel G. Ray and others studied 766,688 live births recorded in Canada's most populous province, Ontario, and concluded that "couples originating from India may be more likely than Canadian born to use prenatal sex determination and terminate a second or subsequent pregnancy if the fetus is female."

During 2002 and 2007, 31,978 women born in India delivered a child in Ontario. Another 18,018 women born in Pakistan also gave birth in Ontario. Compared to Canadian-born women and those born elsewhere, women born in India have been giving birth to males much more so than the rest. These differences were however more pronounced for subsequent pregnancies.

Getting desperate with time

The number of children delivered in the past do not influence the male-to-female ratio of the newborn for women born in Canada. However, the birth data from Ontario suggests that the preference for a male child does impact birth outcomes for women from South Asia in their subsequent pregnancies

For women who have not given birth before, the sex ratio of children born to women of Indian origin is the same as the rest. The male-to-female ratio for children born to women who have not given birth before is around 1.05 for Canadian born women. The same ratio is 1.04 for women born in India and Pakistan. However, the offspring's male-to-female ratio increases significantly for women born in India when they are delivering their second or third child. The Indian-born women gave birth to 136 males for every 100 females when they delivered their third child in Canada. The presence of two prior children (most likely females) is assumed to have contributed to sex selection of the third child.

Women born in Pakistan also give birth to more males than females while delivering the third child. However, the difference is not statistically significant from the one recorded for women born in Canada.

Source: Joel G. Ray, David A. Henry, Marcelo L. Urquia. June 2012. Sex ratios among Canadian live born infants of mothers from different countries. Canada Medical Association Journal. 184(9).

India's problem becomes Canada's

The skewed sex ratio has been known to exist in India for decades. According to BBC's Geeta Panday, 8 million fetuses have been aborted in India during 2001 and 2011. The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, calls infant feticide a "national shame". The shameful practice however has crossed the Atlantic to Canada.

The BBC report suggests that the female feticide in India spread with the advent of ultrasound technology, which made it convenient for the parents to determine sex of the fetus. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1974 encouraged this practice. The Indian government finally reacted to the issue by enacting the Prenatal Determination Test Act in 1994, which declared sex-selective abortions illegal. The Act, though enacted, has not been enforced to have a meaningful impact. The male-to-female ratio of newborns in India has worsened from 1.06 in 1991 to 1.09 in 2011. It is estimated that there are 40,000 ultrasound clinics registered in India with several thousand additional unregistered facilities performing sex determination tests.

One would assume that the urban and literate parents in India would not indulge in this reprehensible practice. However, the entire opposite is true. Stephen Dale of IDRC in Canada reported that male-to-female ratio for children born to Indian mothers with grade 10 or higher education was 1.46 compared to 1.15 for illiterate mothers. Quoting a 2006 study from Lancent Stephen further revealed that the male-to-female ratio of children born to Indian women who had given birth to two daughters in the past was 1.39. The same ratio for women who had given birth to one female child in the past was 1.32.

The desire to have a son has led many to engage in the heinous act of female feticide. Dr. Prabhat Jha in Toronto estimated that 10 million female fetuses were aborted in India during 1985 and 2005. While poverty and cultural norms, such as dowry to marry off daughters, may be instrumental in sex-selective abortions in India, it is rather sad to see the same being practiced in Canada by Indian emigrants whose economic welfare is superior to those in India.

Bad rap for Pakistani parents

While female feticide is not common amongst the Pakistan-born Canadian immigrants, they still struggle with the image problem, especially when it relates to how they treat their daughters. Several violent incidents perpetrated by immigrant family members against young women have been widely reported in the Canadian media. In the name of honour, some immigrant parents have committed the most dishonourable acts. Aqsa Pervez, a teenager born to immigrants from Pakistan, was brutally murdered by her parents near Toronto. Later, an Afghan family was convicted of murdering three young daughters. The media and the experts who testified in the court blamed the religious beliefs as catalysts behind these vicious murders. I believe culture also plays a much larger role.

The so-called honour killings are equally (if not more) prevalent amongst non-Muslims in the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab. The most known case of honour killing in Canada is that of a young Sikh woman from Surrey, BC, who was murdered in India for marrying a young man from a different caste. Female feticide is also most pronounced in Haryana and Punjab where fewer than 850 girls for every 1000 boys between the ages of 0 and 6 were reported in the 2011 Census.

When it comes to female feticide, I believe religion does play a role. While emigrants from India and Pakistan do share strong cultural backgrounds, the Canadian immigrants of Pakistani origin would avoid abortion, which is against their religious beliefs. No such prohibitions restrict Indian emigrants in Canada.

Canada has been a welcoming place for immigrants where the newcomers are encouraged to practice and celebrate their cultures and religious beliefs. This welcome however does not cover violence against daughters, born or otherwise, by their parents.


Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Do you have information you wish to share with You can email our News Desk to share news tips, reports and general feedback. You can also email the Blog Desk if you have an opinion or narrative to share, or reach out to the Special Projects Desk to send us your Photos, or Videos.

Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

More From This Author

Comments (30) (Closed)

Nov 07, 2012 06:03pm
Shocking, but not surprising .
Nov 09, 2012 04:46am
It's worse than a 'national shame', its a national disaster. The Indian government should shut down all those ultrasound clinics.This is endemic in china as well, but at least they have the dubious fig leaf of the communists strictly policing child birth.
andy (ON, Canada)
Nov 09, 2012 01:09pm
agreed. thanks. i did not mean to compare with pakistan! anyways thanks for your response and inputs.
Nov 08, 2012 05:43pm
killing women is worst crime. raping non-muslim women is equally worst in islamic countries.
Nov 08, 2012 06:00pm
Remember Malala Yousufzai, Hun??
Nov 08, 2012 07:26am
more young males equals more violence
mike ghaous
Nov 08, 2012 07:04am
First UK & now Canada...there have been cases in US to....
Nov 08, 2012 08:03pm
Andy, The ill referred to in this article is in our country and we have to tackle it. It does not matter what Pakistan is doing or how women there are performing , because if we are doing something bad it is bad irrespective of what others do. I feel this is a balanced article with no malicious intent to pinpoint India. Lets acknowledge the problem and even through we have made some improvements still its a long way to go. Let us push more and more to the right direction.
Nov 08, 2012 06:01am
it is leading to increasing violence in the society and sexual harassment owing to disproprtionate ratio for genders
Nov 08, 2012 04:18am
Where the world would go if all the newborns be males..... already china statistics show a distressing side, where mostly parents go for males....
Nov 08, 2012 03:30am
Though Pakistan is also heavily influenced by Indian culture being part of the same before 1947, still religion has played a role in both undivided India and Pak in improving condition of the way girl child is treated. It still has a long way to go before treatment of women become what Islam has preached as culture has deep roots. Regardless of religion, rights of women should be same everywhere and for everyone.
Nov 08, 2012 09:06pm
I will agree to Dr Manmohan Singh that killing of millions of unborn girl children is national shame for us. I also request not to give this topic a religious color. This has started during Indira Gandhi regime which encouraged 2 children policy. The Govt hospitals motivated and financed abortions to enforce this policy that appeared friendly only on papers. Some people were even forcefully sterlized(Vasectomy) to prevent giving birth to next children. The Governmet hospitals did complete consulting of families to abort girl child because they knew that families will continue to try until they get a male child. The same is happening in China due to single child policy. Please read about it too. People are preferring male child over female child.
Nov 08, 2012 01:48am
I am from India. I am deeply ashamed of the murders of female fetuses committed widely all over India. Indians are uncivilized.
Nov 08, 2012 02:19pm
Islam does not approve of any kind of birth control measures and abortion is one of them. It is not because of gender selective abortions are prohibited. Those who oppose polio vaccination, preventing women from holding public positions, travelling alone etc are also doing it in the name of Islam. Sanction to marry 4 women, no matter under what conditions, itself speaks of status of women in Islam. So if muslims dont commit the crime of female foeticide that some Hindus are doing, it by no means an indication of respect for female gender, but because abortion itself is prohibited in Islam.
Yusuf Perth
Nov 08, 2012 01:15am
Shameful act no matter who does it.
Nov 07, 2012 11:11pm
And I wonder why only the border states of Punjab And Haryana in India have these social evils while southern states of India don't...any influence from elsewhere Or some historical significance.
Nov 07, 2012 10:53pm
well written and good information for those who are out there to castigate muslims specially from pakistan.
Nov 07, 2012 09:44pm
This shameful and barbaric practice in India and to an extent amongst Indians living in Canada, is a fact. Lot is being done and said about it in India though this practice continues. If one's own conscience is dead what the law or society can do ? In that case nature will put its own corrective and punitive ways in place. There will be no girls to marry for the sons that we produce today. This is not sanctioned by law or religion.
Nov 07, 2012 06:43pm
This is very well-written. I feel like Pakistani parents wouldn't abort because Islam is completely against abortion and people really need to look deep and be able to distinguish these communities to understand the difference. It is also unfortunate that so many Pakistani immigrants choose to kill their daughters in the name of honor because that corrupts the image of us everywhere and any brutal act regarding women is considered to be carried out by Pakistani Muslims.
Nov 07, 2012 06:25pm
when you consider daughters as bad then you also consider your mother (who was somebody's else daughter) as bad too....
Nov 07, 2012 04:29pm
Thanks Dr. Haider, as always an informative, well written articles based on facts and valid research. Us humans are a cruel species, willing to kill our own offspring.
Saad (DXB)
Nov 09, 2012 05:36am
How can you be an Indian and an American at the same time? I thought India doesn't allow dual nationality? Perhaps you meant you are an American of Indian origin.
Nov 07, 2012 04:05pm
That is why I , a true pro-life Indian-American, oppose abortion on demand. I am a republican and voted for Romney-Ryan
Allaisa Xuver
Nov 07, 2012 03:32pm
Is abortion illegal in Canada? If it is not then what is the problem?
Nov 07, 2012 03:29pm
India is the most brutal society for Women.
andy (ON, Canada)
Nov 07, 2012 03:17pm
hi murtaza. thanks for bringing it up. good comparison between india and pakistan. As usual no blog or no news in pakistan is complete without an unavoidable and unnecessary mention of religion. Although it is one of the biggest problems in India at this moment, the mechanisms are in place and are paying off. The government has come very hard on this and there are very strict laws against it. you can check from your sources about PNDT act in India. Scores of ultrasound centres have been sealed and radiologists sent to prison. I would also like you to write about percentage of girls in higher education, doing high profile jobs, female CEO's of big will be surprised to see that the percentage in higher education is at least 50%. there are some govt institutes where females clearly outnumber males. I would love to see such a comparison between pakistani and indian women. In the medical schools, already there are more girls than boys in India. On top of it govt. has introduced mandatory reservation for girls at all levels. There are reserved positions for female MP's MLA's even at remote villages. It would have been a great piece, had you done some research before writing this up. I assure you it is not of your stature and noway comparable to your previous articles. To me this appears to be a copy paste job from the old article that was published early this year in Ontario with some copy pastes from some old sensational news from India. you really can do better. Good luck with that. Anyways, thank you very much for showing us the mirror. we are ashamed of this dirty practice of female foeticide!
Nov 07, 2012 03:06pm
Thank you for the informative data and almost non judgemental commentary.
Nov 07, 2012 02:52pm
Canada's immigration system and refugee asylum system are jokes. They recieve grant from the UN per head and they give out maybe a .1% of it to the deserving and when there is a voice raised, it is always rebutted with same answer, "what about the cost of the operations." Canada is far from being the dream country it so much potrays.
Olivia Mukhopadhyay
Nov 09, 2012 07:29am
I am soory but being a hindu I cant understand how you concluded that our religion allows girls to be aborted.Most people who have any knowledge of the Vedas,the Gita or Vedanta would tell you that as a religion Hinduism promotes equality for women just as ISLAM does.What we practice is a different issue,but putting the onus on religious beliefs is a fatal mistake for an esteemed writer like you.Weall believe what we want to belive and should be held responsible for our actions.
Nov 08, 2012 07:37pm
There is indeed a historical reason for this.Punjab ( and Haryana ) has been the battle-ground of the sub-continent for centuries.And battles and wars need males.The more sons you have,the more there are to fight.And women,in addition to being unable to go into battle,burden the society with the need to be protected from rape and abduction.The girl child thus becomes the unwelcome offspring,and women who give birth to sons/males are admired as they are helping protect the society and the country.