Human Genetics Alert

Unit 112 Aberdeen House
22-24 Highbury Grove, London N5 2EA
Phone: 020 7704 6100 fax: 020 7359 8423
info@hgalert.org  www.hgalert.org

Alternative India Development

47 Villa Rd
Birmingham B19 1BH
Phone:0121 554 5854
aidindia@btinternet.com

PRESS RELEASE

 Embargo: 00.01 am Friday December 13th

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Sex selection clinics marketing services to UK Indian communities

HGA launches campaign to ban sex selection

HGA and AID (1) have discovered that sex selection clinics in London, Birmingham and Glasgow are advertising in the UK Punjabi press (2). This is a shameless attempt to exploit for profit traditional Indian sexist preferences for boys, and reinforces the need for a UK ban on sex selection. HGA is today launching a campaign to ban sex selection in the UK.

The adverts, which appeared in the Punjabi language newspaper 'Des Pardes' on October 11th, offer both sperm sorting and ultrasound scanning for sex determination. In India, sex selection has been illegal since 1994, because of its dramatic effects on the  ratio of girls to boys (3). It is disgraceful that this unethical and socially damaging practice remains legal in the UK (4).

HGA has set up a website (www.hgalert.org/whatsnew/) with further information, which allows visitors to directly respond to the current Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority public consultation on sex selection, by email. HGA is calling on responsible citizens to make clear to the HFEA their opposition to sex selection.

HGA's Director, Dr. David King, said: "This shows what happens if we have no rules to control the free market. There must be an immediate ban on sex selection for social reasons. We must not allow sexism to determine who gets born. If we cannot draw this line clearly, we have no hope of preventing a flood of other 'designer babies', chosen for their looks or IQ."

AID India's Director, Dr. Arasu said: "In India, the poor people in some states used to commit female infanticide to do away with new born girls. Sadly, another version of the same is being re-enacted in the UK by families of Indian origin, in a sophisticated way with the aid of reproductive technologies. Girl children's right to be born live is nipped in the bud by the misuse of sex-determination and sex-selection technologies. Despite the economic affluence of the Indian community in UK, it is a strange that the same hostile attitude against girls is mirrored here".  

For further information contact David King: 020 7704 6100 or Dr. Arasu 0121 554 5854

 Notes for editors  

1. Human Genetics Alert is an independent, pro-choice, watchdog group.  Alternative India Development is a secular Indian NGO working on gender equity and equality. It has been involved in advocacy, campaigns and action against female infanticide and foeticide and other forms of violence against women for a decade and half.

2. The adverts were placed by the London Gender Clinic, and affiliates in Glasgow and Birmingham. The adverts are posted on the HGA website at www.hgalert.org/pReleases/sexselectionads.jpg.

The clinics charge 500 for ultrasound scanning and 2,500 for sperm sorting. They claim 94% accuracy for choosing a boy and 81% for a girl.

3.  According to the 2001 Indian Census there are only 927 girls per 1,000 boys in the age range 0-6.  In some regions, the ratio is as low as 800 per 1000. This has declined since 1991, despite being banned in 1994, due to lack of enforcement.  Recently, in response to a petition by two Indian non-governmental organisations, the Supreme Court of India ordered state governments to take measures to enforce the law.  See www.genderhealth.org/pubs/MallikSexSelectionIndiaOct2002.pdf.

 4. There are three main techniques of sex selection: (i) pre-natal testing and termination of pregnancy (ii) pre-implantation genetic testing of embryos (iii) sperm sorting - selection of sperm carrying X or Y chromosomes followed by insemination or IVF.

Pre-natal testing and termination is the main problem in India.  In the UK, abortion purely on the grounds of sex would be against the 1967 Abortion Act, but it is possible for parents to ask about the sex of the child when undergoing ultrasound scanning

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) of embryos is regulated by the HFEA.  They do not currently allow its use for sex selection, except for avoiding sex-linked genetic diseases, like Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. 

Sperm sorting has 'improved' greatly in its accuracy over the last few years, and is now being offered by companies in the US.  This is what has led the Department of Health to order this consultation. Sperm sorting is not covered by any legislation in the UK, and HGA has discovered that clinics are marketing the technique to Indian communities in the UK.  The HFEA is considering recommending to the government that it should ban or regulate sperm sorting, which would require legislation.  A further option is to allow the use of the technique to remain unregulated.