The illegal abortion of female foetuses solely to ensure that families have sons is widely practised within some ethnic communities in Britain and has resulted in significant shortfalls in the proportion of girls, according to an investigation by a UK newspaper.
The practice of sex-selective abortion is now so commonplace that it has affected the natural 50:50 balance of boys to girls within some immigrant groups and has led to the "disappearance" of between 1,400 and 4,700 females from the census records of England and Wales, the 'Independent' newspaper claimed.
A government investigation last year found no evidence that women living in the UK -- but born abroad -- were preferentially aborting girls.
However, deeper statistical analysis of data from the 2011 census has shown 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.
The findings will reignite the debate over whether women should be legally allowed to know the sex of their babies following ultrasound scans at 13 weeks. Some experts have argued that the baby's sex should be withheld automatically until much later in pregnancy, when abortions are more difficult to obtain -- as some UK hospitals have already started to do.
About 10pc of the 190,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2011 took place after 13 weeks of pregnancy, when the sex organs of the foetus are clearly visible from ultrasound scans.
Though technically illegal under UK abortion law, an abortion based on a foetus's sex can still be carried out if two doctors agree that it is in the best interests of the woman's health.
This is one reason why it has been so difficult to prosecute doctors offering terminations where gender has been an issue.
Last October, former DPP Keir Starmer wrote to the UK's Attorney General saying he would not pursue the prosecution of two doctors allegedly caught offering sex-selective abortions in a newspaper sting. (© Independent News Service)