London, Sep 17 (PTI) Britain's Opposition Labour Party on Monday called for a ban on sex determination tests for pregnant women to counter a bias among South Asian communities in favour of male babies.
Indian-origin Labour MP Tan Dhesi said gender determination tests during pregnancies should be controlled to ensure the "social evil" of aborting female foetuses can be kept in check in Britain.
"Communities in South Asia have made huge strides in tackling this social evil. That's been primarily through legislation, banning gender determination clinics," the UK's first turbaned Sikh MP said.
“In the UK I think we need to be doing likewise, with regards to the private sector as well," he said.
Choosing an abortion for gender reasons is illegal in the UK but it is difficult to detect as women often cite other reasons for having the procedure.
The UK's Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) is used by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) to test for genetic conditions, but people can pay for it privately to discover a baby's sex for around 200 pounds.
Pakistani-origin Labour MP Naz Shah, who is the shadow women and equalities minister, said it was morally wrong for people to use the test to abort pregnancies based on the outcome.
"NIPT screenings should be used for their intended purpose, to screen for serious conditions such as Down's Syndrome. The government needs to look into this exploitative practice and enforce appropriate restrictions," she said.
An investigation by the BBC found “thousands” of pregnant women in the UK using online forums to discuss the discovery of their baby’s gender through NIPT testing.
Jeena International, a charity supporting women from ethnic minority communities in the UK, said some women were forced into abortions because they became pregnant with a girl for a second or third time.
"No wonder they're resorting to sex-selection abortion because they've got no choice,” said charity founder Rani Bilkhu.
"They don't want to be homeless, they don't want their marriage to fail – all because they couldn't give birth to a boy," she said.
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a UK government advisory body, has warned that increasingly widespread private NIPT testing in the UK could lead to the country becoming a haven for "sex-selective" abortions.
"Countries like China and India have recognised the problem of sex-selective abortion…so if we allow it, people will come here as tourists," warned Dr Tom Shakespeare of the council.
A spokesperson for the UK government's Department of Health and Social Care said, "The pre-natal test is never meant to be used for gender. We will continue to review the evidence". PTI AK KUN