An investigation by The Independent national newspaper published earlier this month claimed illegal abortion widely used by some UK ethnic groups to avoid having daughters has 'reduced the female population by between 1,500 and 4,700’.
Rani Bilkhu, founder of Slough-based women’s charity Jeena International, said the practice of women aborting unborn girls was almost accepted - with the belief girls are an inferior sex engrained in the fabric of some ethnic communities.
She said the birth of daughters is regularly a 'pre-cursor’ to marriages breaking down and domestic violence - explaining why Asian women are twice as likely to commit suicide than most other ethnic groups.
“Eight women from Slough have confided in the charity that they have had illegal gender abortion,” Mrs Bilkhu told The Observer. “They all flew to India to get the abortion.”
She added: “It’s almost an accepted practice that’s going on and that nobody talks about.”
The Independent analysed statistics from the 2011 National Census for women who lived in the UK, but were born abroad. The newspaper claimed its research showed 'widespread discrepancies in the sex ratio of children in some immigrant families, which can only be easily explained by women choosing to abort female foetuses in the hope of becoming quickly pregnant again with a boy’.
But Mrs Bilkhu says the figures are just the tip of the iceberg. “Those figures do not look at second and third generations - like myself,” she said. “We are empowered with the English language and are more financially stable to afford an abortion holiday.”
And she knows the pressures women face all too well. “I didn’t have a good relationship with my in-laws,” Mrs Bilkhu said. “I felt having a boy may heal that rift. I felt if I had a boy, I would be more accepted. My husband was the only son, I was desperate to have a boy so the family name would be carried forward.”
She described a scenario when she took one of her new born daughters to the Gurdwara to celebrate her birth, and was greeted unsympathetically by one of the temple’s older women members.
“The phrase 'you can do something about that’, when talking about having a baby girl, is almost like 'how is the weather?’. It’s endemic. It’s like girls are worthless.”
Jeena, which aims to empower young women to bring about personal and social change, published a documentary on gender abortion back in 2011. Now Mrs Bilkhu is lobbying government to make sure healthcare professionals are informed about the issue. She also wants an all-party parliamentary group set up.
But she said authorities are sending out mixed messages. The Crown Prosecution Service ruled it was not in the public interest to prosecute two doctors allegedly exposed to agreeing to arrange gender-based abortions in an undercover Daily Telegraph investigation. Although the Department for Health has since launched an investigation after The Independent’s investigation.
“We can make it better by challenging communities, celebrating girls being born and challenging people’s behaviour,” Mrs Bilkhu said. “Women are economically vibrant now, they don’t need to believe in this.”