Here is some news to shock you: Shah Rukh Khan, a top Bollywood actor, apparently knows the gender of his – as yet unborn – third child. What? You mean to tell me you’re not standing aghast at this astonishing news?

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Health officials in India apparently are. Mr Khan and his wife are currently under investigation for allegedly discovering the gender of their child, something that is banned in India under the 1994 Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act. ((

Part 3 of the Offences & Penalties section of this Act, states the following: “Any person who seeks the aid of a Genetic Counselling Centre, Genetic Laboratory, Genetic Clinic or ultrasound clinic or imaging clinic or of a medical geneticist, gynaecologist, sinologist or imaging specialist or registered medical practitioner or any other person for sex selection or for conducting pre- natal diagnostic techniques on any pregnant women for the purposes other than those specified in sub-section (2) of section 4, he shall, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees for the first offence and for any subsequent offence with imprisonment which may extend to five years and with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.” ((

Wow! So if you should happen to find a clinic in India that is prepared to tell you the sex of your unborn child (unlikely because of the penalties they would face), you could find yourself being fined or even end up in prison.

But what about the exceptions mentioned in this paragraph as coming under sub-section (2) of section 4 of the Act? You’ve probably already guessed, but for your information screening of unborn babies, whilst illegal for the purpose of finding out the sex of the child, is deemed okay for “the purposes of detection of any of the following abnormalities, namely:

(i) chromosomal abnormalities; (ii) genetic metabolic diseases; (iii) haemoglobinopathies; (iv) sex-linked genetic diseases; (v) congenital anomalies; (vi) any other abnormalities or diseases as may be specified by the Central Supervisory Board” ((Ibid))

Now why would it be okay to screen for these things, but not to let mom and dad know whether they are about to have a boy or a girl? Of course part of the answer is that India has a massive sex-ratio problem caused by the cultural preference for males over females. The problems caused by this are immense, and it could even be that some of the horrendous gang-rape episodes that have come out of the country in recent months are a symptom of this problem.

But there are essentially three possible responses to this problem:

1)      You could ban abortion on the grounds of gender selection 2)      You could ban abortion altogether 3)      You could ban parents from finding out the sex of their unborn child

If a government determined to take the first course of action, this wouldn’t actually solve the problem. The reason for this is that in a country that already allows mass abortion, it would be hard to prove that someone was killing the baby for this reason. A woman could have a sex-determination test, find out that it’s a girl, and then have an abortion on entirely different grounds.

Option 2 would solve the problem altogether and more. No longer would little girls be slaughtered in the womb at the behest of their parents, but also little boys would not be slaughtered either. However, apparently this option is unpalatable in India – as with just about everywhere else – and so the numbers of innocents killed in the womb in that country is now said to be a colossal 11 million per year. ((

So they went for the third option – banning sex-determination tests. Now part of the rationale behind this was presumably that “too many girls were being killed”. But if there was a problem with “too many girls being killed,” I would say that the policy has been a massive failure. I’m guessing that at least half of the 11 million or so killed every year are of the female variety.

Abortion by gender selection is starting to become a big thing in western countries too. As people from countries such as India and other places where males are preferred over females continue to emigrate to the west, there is a good deal of evidence that this practice is on the rise. But the question that needs to be posed to those who howl in outrage at the practice of abortion by gender, but who in all other circumstances approve of it, is this:

Are you really upset because thousands or even millions of baby girls are being destroyed, or is it because thousands of baby boys survive?

Think about it. The decision to abort on the grounds of gender can be seen from two completely opposite standpoints. It can be a couple finding out that their baby is a girl and so deciding she should be aborted. Yet it can also be a couple finding out that their baby is a boy and deciding he should survive.

Those who raise a great cry over the issue of gender selection would like us to believe that the problem is that girls are being killed. But they have no problem with baby girls being killed. They approve of it if it is done for almost every other reason. Their real problem is that the boys survive. Were it the case that boys were dying in equal numbers as the girls, it would never become an issue or make it into the headlines – regardless of the numbers being killed.

In the estimation of such people, abortion only moves into the category of immoral when modern society’s deadliest sin – sexism – is breached. Egalitarianism trumps everything.

Had Shah Rukh Khan and his wife just gone ahead and killed their baby, he would not now be making headlines. But for having the audacity to find out his or her gender, this couple may well find themselves fined or imprisoned. Now that really is shocking.