Illegal abortion on the grounds of gender may be taking place in Britain within immigrant communities, ministers have admitted for the first time after an official analysis of birth statistics.
The government was last night urged to launch a full inquiry after officials found signs that birth rates for girls and boys vary noticeably according to where their mothers were born.
A health minister said these differences in rates of male and female births may "fall outside the range considered possible without intervention". It forms the first official statistical evidence potentially backing up concerns that sex-selection abortions are being carried out in Britain.
Andrew Lansley, the former Health Secretary, last year condemned the "illegal and morally wrong" practice following an investigation into the issue.
After a newspaper received information that the procedures were becoming increasingly common, undercover reporters filmed women being offered terminations by doctors based on gender.
As a result of the investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service is now considering criminal charges against three doctors.
The practice of aborting unborn babies on the basis of sex has long been considered a problem in areas of India and China, where boys are sometimes considered more favourable than girls for cultural or economic reasons.
The government said its new analysis was undertaken after the Council of Europe demanded statistics on the issue of whether more boys than girls are born to mothers of certain nationalities.
Earl Howe, a health minister, revealed in answer to a parliamentary question: "While the overall United Kingdom birth ratio is within normal limits, analysis of birth data for the calendar years from 2007 to 2011 has found the gender ratios at birth vary by mothers' country of birth." (© Daily Telegraph, London)