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Sex-selective Abortion

Volume 767: debated on Monday 7 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to take action to protect unborn girls from abortion for the sole reason of their sex.

My Lords, abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal, and we have made this very clear on a number of occasions. The Government published an analysis on 27 August this year which found no substantiated evidence of gender abortions taking place in Great Britain. We are committed to continuing to monitor this issue carefully and will examine any evidence that comes to light.

My Lords, I am most pleased to hear what my noble friend just told us. Why are there constantly reports in the papers of such abortions being carried out? It seems to be fairly usual if we look at the papers. Is he as concerned as I am that there seems to be no great battle against this?

My Lords, abortion on the basis of gender alone is illegal; there should be no doubt about that. There is no evidence at all on a population basis of any such abortions taking place. However, my noble friend has mentioned that there is anecdotal evidence to the effect that that may not always be the case. To that extent, she is right to be eternally vigilant about these matters. If it is happening, it is totally unacceptable, abhorrent, and against everything we stand for in this country.

My Lords, with which stakeholders are the Government working in order to fulfil their commitment to explore pressure and coercion on women in relation to boy preference and its possible link with domestic violence?

My Lords, I have a long list of stakeholders, which covers all the usual suspects in this area, if I can put it like that. In the way that the methodology was developed to assess whether there was a population basis for gender abortions taking place, we took advice from the Office for National Statistics and a number of the royal colleges.

My Lords, has the Minister yet had the opportunity to consider the judgment made last week about abortion in Northern Ireland? What advice and work are the Government going to do with the devolved Administration to ensure that women in Northern Ireland get the same human rights as women in the rest of the United Kingdom?

My Lords, there may not be sufficient evidence for gender-based abortion prosecutions, but there is sufficient evidence, surely, for greater effort to be made about female genital mutilation. Tens of thousands of women in this country have suffered from it yet we still have not had a single successful prosecution. Does he accept that far more needs to be done to deal with this evil?

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. Gender-based abortion, female genital mutilation, honour crimes and various other issues still take place in some ethnic communities in England. Across the board, we have to be vigilant about all of these issues and make it clear that they are not acceptable. They are against the law and anyone aware of these practices going on should report them to the police.

My Lords, my noble friend has twice referred to evidence on a population basis, which I take to mean that the evidence is taken without distinction of which part of the country it comes from. Has any effort been made to correlate the evidence with clusters of cases, which might point to some social activity that would be possible to countermand?

My Lords, the statistics are collected on the basis of birth across the population. They are then analysed in 500 different ways. In only one of those 500, which concerned the third or further child given birth to by women from Nepal, was there any variation from what one would expect. I can assure noble Lords that the statistical analysis is very robust.

My Lords, while welcoming the appointment of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, as the Minister with responsibility for women and children and for tackling violence against women and children overseas, given the prevalence of this abortion of female foetuses and the prevalence of FGM among certain girls under five, are the Government thinking of appointing a Minister for violence against women and children in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I am not aware that we are giving consideration to that, but I will find out and write to the noble Baroness.

I thank the Minister for his original reply; it is one with which we concur—we do not have the evidence and, like him, we consider that the Act is sufficient as it is. Some of the stories are partly, I think, just about the lack of self-worth that some girl children sometimes feel; that is partly about their education and that of their mothers. Can the Minister say something about what the Government do to encourage greater self-worth among young women and, indeed, older women?

My Lords, I encourage anyone with an interest in this matter to read some of the case stories put together by Jeena International—they are really quite shocking. They are anecdotal, but they are very real for a small minority of women who lack self-worth. That is, tragically, part of some of the cultures in England and we must do everything we can to improve women’s self-worth. I think that, in the long run, that will be done by education, education, education.

My Lords, if, as anecdotal evidence suggests, there are such terminations of female foetuses, surely that would be reflected in the overall population of girls being born. The figures I have seen show that women are, thankfully, still in the majority in this country.

The statistical evidence is absolutely clear and points to the fact that there is no widespread gender abortion happening in this country. One would expect a ratio of 105 to 100 boys to girls and it is actually 105.2 to 100 in England, Scotland and Wales, so it is exactly where we would expect it be. There is one exception, which is the third and fourth born of Nepalese women, but this has been looked at two or three times and it is just a random variation in the statistics that we use.