Illegal abortion of unwanted girls may be taking place in Britain’s immigrant communities, ministers have admitted for the first time.
Statistics show the ratio between the number of girls and boys born in the UK as a whole is normal, but among mothers of certain nationalities the differences ‘fall outside the range considered possible without intervention’.
The data could be evidence that sex-selection abortions – which are illegal – are happening in Britain.
Boys are considered preferable for cultural, religious or economic reasons in some cultures.
Health minister Earl Howe, who revealed the figures in a parliamentary answer to Lord Alton of Liverpool, said officials would continue to monitor gender ratios.
Earl Howe said: ‘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.
‘For the majority of groups, this variation is the result of small numbers of births and does not persist between years.
‘However, for a very small number of countries of birth there are indications that birth ratios may differ from the UK as a whole and potentially fall outside of the range considered possible without intervention.’ But there is a possibility the preliminary data could just show ‘natural variation’, he added.
He rejected a suggestion by Lord Alton, who campaigns against abortion, for officials to record the sex of aborted foetuses.
He said: ‘Identifying the gender of aborted foetuses over ten weeks’ gestation raises ethical and clinical issues. We have no plans to introduce such a practice.’
Lord Alton, a crossbench peer and former MP, said the fact that abortions had become ‘routine’ in Britain could be behind the emergence of sex-selective abortion.
‘Abortion has become so routine in Britain with 600 taking place every day that people have accepted the mantra that it’s just a matter of choice but that’s not what the law says,’ he told the Daily Telegraph. ‘There is a fundamental debate to take place here.’
Last year the newspaper exposed doctors who offered women abortions based on gender. The Crown Prosecution Service is considering bringing charges against three who were identified.
An Oxford University study previously revealed that Indian women giving birth in the UK between 1990 and 2005 may have been terminating more girl than boy babies.
And a Canadian academic, Dr Rajendra Kale, has called for parents to be banned from finding out the sex of their foetus until the mother is 30 weeks pregnant.
He said a study showed there were male-biased birth ratios among Chinese, Korean and Indian parents living in Canada, saying there was ‘evidence of a clear son preference’.
Many British hospitals have stopped telling parents the gender of their unborn babies until late in pregnancy after a Council of Europe recommendation last year to avoid encouraging sex selection.
But blood tests that reveal the sex are easily obtainable online.
Abortion for non-medical reasons is legal in Britain until the mother is 24 weeks pregnant.
However, termination on the grounds of gender is illegal in any circumstance.
There were nearly 190,000 abortions in England and Wales in 2010, a rise of 8 per cent over ten years.