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On his first night of rotation at a Delhi hospital, Puneet Bedi was assigned to the obstetrics ward. A wide-eyed 20-year-old medical student, he was excited by the prospect of becoming a doctor responsible for human life. He hoped to witness a birth that night.
Minutes after catching a glimpse of the labor room, Bedi was intercepted by a cat with something bloody dangling from its mouth. It wasn't until he saw a five-month-old fetus discarded on an uncovered tray, lying in a pool of blood, that he realized what the cat had eaten.
As the night wore on, Bedi witnessed more abortions than births. All of them were performed on women who were at least four months pregnant. When he worked up the nerve to ask why so many fetuses were being discarded, and why he had seen a cat eat one, a staff member explained tersely: "Because they are girls."
Three decades later, Bedi, an ob-gyn consultant at a New Delhi hospital, recounted this experience to Mara Hvistendahl, who last year persuasively demonstrated a chilling reality in her Pulitzer-nominated book, Unnatural Selection: There's a gender-based genocide afoot the world over, and it's having profound implications—none of them good.
For starters, there's the skewed sex ratio. Demographer Christophe Guilmoto has calculated that if Asia's sex ratio at birth had remained at its natural balance of 105 boys to 100 girls (boys are slightly more vulnerable to childhood diseases, and this ratio provides for equal numbers at marriageable age) over the past three decades, the continent would have an additional 163 million females. That's how many females he estimates have been aborted—the equivalent of every female in America today.
"No more girls at the mall or in supermarkets, in hospitals, boardrooms, or classrooms," says Hvistendahl. "Imagine this, and you come close to picturing the problem."
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