Feature Fetal sex selection

The promise of a boy: Indian women are being mis-sold drugs to change their babies’ sex

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j913 (Published 06 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j913

The drugs don’t work and may even cause miscarriage, but their use is shrouded in secrecy, writes Sophie Cousins

Sitting on the floor of her home in the north Indian state of Haryana, 23 year old Meena covered her face with a red and blue sari as she spoke about her recent stillbirth.

“The doctor told me the child died in my womb. He said there was no heartbeat. There was no explanation,” she told The BMJ.

Six months earlier Meena had taken what are known as sex selection drugs (SSDs)— remedies that women take because they think that they will help them give birth to a boy.

“I took the drugs because we wanted a male child—because my first baby was female,” she said at her home in Sampla, a village in Rohtak district.

While the drugs contain legal compounds, selling them together as a “sex selection drug” is illegal.

The drugs are typically taken six to 10 weeks after conception when the sex of the child has already been determined.

Women are sold the drugs through an underground network that includes rickshaw drivers and midwives who connect families to sellers.

They are told to follow strict rituals—like wearing clothes of a certain colour or praying to a god—and to take “traditional remedies,” which come in powders or tablets. A woman might take the drugs in the morning with a glass of cow’s milk while looking at her husband, locals told The BMJ. The drugs—which are usually taken daily for a week but sometimes up to a month—are sold for as …

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