Britain's missing babies: A chilling new investigation reveals a disturbing trend By PAUL BRACCHI Last updated at 22:19 02 December 2007 The waiting rooms of Dr Mangala Telang's private clinics in the suburbs of Delhi are always full. Dr Telang is a leading IVF specialist, after all, and one of the doctors recommended by the British High Commission (her name is given out to Britons visiting or living in the city who need to see a gynaecologist). Pictures of smiling, gurgling babies adorn the walls of her surgeries. There is a huge shortfall in the number of baby girls being born to British Asian families How chillingly ironic these photographs turn out to be. In fact, doctors like Mangala Telang are at the heart of a scandal - and human tragedy - which extends to thousands of homes in Britain. Worrying new research reveals that between 1990 and 2005, about 1,500 fewer girls were born to Indian mothers living in England and Wales than would have been statistically probable for this group. Indeed, the Oxford University population expert who collated the information insists the discrepancy in birth ratios between boys and girls is too "sudden and pronounced to have a likely biological or environmental cause... the most probable explanation is sex-selective abortion". The revelation follows a threemonth investigation by a team from the highly-respected BBC Asian Network. The documentary - to be broadcast tonight - is called, appropriately, Britain's Missing Girls. The 1,500 total represents one in ten girls "missing" from birth statistics for mothers having their third or fourth female child. It is almost certainly a very conservative estimate, based solely on records for Indian-born women who moved to Britain, not Indian women born in Britain - for which data is not easily available. Indian women in Britain it appears, are also travelling to the subcontinent to use the services of doctors such as Mangala Telang, who does not carry out terminations herself, but for 4,000 rupees (about £49), Dr Telang will tell you the sex of your unborn child and is happy to recommend someone who can terminate the pregnancy. It is illegal in India to use ultrasound scans for such a purpose - even in the UK it is the policy of most hospitals not to divulge this information until after the 24-week abortion limit. Anyone who is familiar with Indian society and culture will probably understand why. Girls are often unwanted. Daughters are considered an economic burden with the dowry system, in particular, resulting in financial ruin or extreme hardship for many families when the women marry. The solution for such families can be brutal and merciless. Thousands of baby girls are killed or allowed to die within their first few days. One of the most horrific methods is "dry drowning", where the open mouth of a female infant, searching for her mother's nipple, receives instead a handful of grain or rice which chokes the child to death. There are also reports of baby girls buried alive. Infanticide is still prevalent throughout India today, but is increasingly being replaced by gender-based abortion - so called "Female Foeticide". But the scale of this trend is frightening. Behind the figures are heartbreaking stories of mothers in this country under pressure to have a son, being bullied by their husband and in-laws into aborting their daughters. Such was the fate of Meena. Meena, who is in her 30s, is from a middle-class Punjabi family, and was born and brought up in the UK. She dresses in Western clothes and works in an office, which perhaps makes her experience even more shocking. It is believed to be the first time a British Asian woman has spoken about this taboo subject. Meena already had three daughters, so last year she went to India with her husband after choosing a gynaecologist on the internet. "Me and my husband decided to go to India to try to find out what we were having and unfortunately it was another girl," she says. "We thought the pressure from the family when I got back home would be too much, so I decided - well, we decided - to terminate." During the interview, however, she admits: "It's not the choice of the woman. "It's all up to the husband and it is usually the husband's side of the family who - you know - are putting the pressure on. "As soon as you are pregnant, everyone sits there and looks at you and says: 'It's going to be a boy.' "It's not a nice feeling when you've had your baby and you are really proud of her, and they turn round and dismiss her as just another mistake. 'I probably never got it so much with my first two daughters but thereafter, and especially when I was pregnant with my third daughter, I'd get remarks like: "Oh yes, it will be a boy this time." But when she was finally born it was: "Well, never mind." "It's really horrible. A lot of my friends - from the same generation as me - thought the same way." Meena recalls her mother-in-law saying: "This time, if you have a boy we're going to have a big party." "I remember looking at her and thinking: 'Well, what are you going to do if it's another girl?' "And yes, my third daughter was born and there was no party. "I come from a family with five sisters and finally my mum did have a son, her sixth child. "I know they think: 'Her mother was like that as well.'" Shortly after being told the results of her scan in India, Meena did indeed have an abortion. "It was desperately upsetting for me, but my husband seemed rather blase about it," she said. "I knew we shouldn't have been doing it for the reasons we were doing it." And this is a woman who was born in Britain. How much greater, then, must the pressure be on women who come to Britain from India, and are now returning, it seems, in increasing numbers to their homeland for abortions. Even in the UK, as Meena's testimony shows, having a baby girl is often the source embarrassment and shame. "If the last rites are performed by your eldest son, a father's soul has a short cut to heaven. "We don't know where it comes from but it is deeply ingrained in some cultures," said Dr Sudhir Sethi, a consultant paediatrician in Leicester, who is campaigning to raise the awareness of female foeticide in this country. "Another reason is that if you don't have a son, then there will be no grandson by him, so it's the end of the family line. "Also, and this is really important, there is the evil practice of dowry, and with a daughter comes the financial burden of dowry." Either way, the statistics which shed light on what is happening in many British Asian families are damning. In the Nineties, 112 boys were born for every 100 girls. Between 2000 and 2005 this rose to 114 boys for every 100 girls. The significance of these figures becomes apparent only when you realise the ratio should be around 103 boys for every 100 girls - the average in most countries excluding India and China. In Britain, hospitals will not tell couples the sex of a child until much later in pregnancy. Privately, doctors - especially in hospitals serving areas with a high ethnic population - say this is to prevent gender-motivated abortions. In India, of course, such rules are not strictly enforced. Some clinics in poorer districts have posters on the walls saying: "600 rupees now and save 50,000 rupees later." The implication is that, by avoiding a girl, a family will avoid paying a large dowry when a daughter eventually marries. Dr Mangala Telang is more discreet. A sign in her clinic informs patients that it's illegal to find out the sex of your child. Dr Telang has even campaigned against the "evils" of female foeticide. It is a stance which now appears more than just a little bit hypocritical. A British couple - Harita, 33, a GP who was 12 weeks pregnant, and her husband Mohan - were sent by the BBC Asian Network undercover to five clinics in India. Three of them, including Dr Telang's, agreed to carry out an illegal scan. Dr Telang, sitting behind her desk in pristine white uniform, nodded sympathetically as the couple explained their "predicament". "We said we were a British couple wanting to know the gender of our baby and said we wanted to know what the options were if the baby was a girl," said Harita. "I said we were under pressure to have a boy. "I was one of five daughters and my husband was on his second marriage, having already got one daughter. Dr Telang knew immediately what we were getting at. "After initially appearing reluctant to help, she said: 'We can't do this sort of thing. 'You saw the poster outside. But seeing as you have come all the way from the UK I'll do you a favour.'" Harita said she wanted to know what her options were if the scan revealed the baby to be a girl before going ahead with it. "Don't worry about it. I'll be able to recommend somebody for you," Dr Telang replied. Harita was ushered into a second room where a male doctor was waiting. The first doctor told him: "This couple are here from the UK - would you mind doing a scan?" Without any further questions he nodded and said: "My fee is 4,000 rupees." The couple agreed to pay. Just ten minutes after first entering the clinic Harita was having a scan. The state-of-the-art 3D machine, which gives a very clear picture, revealed Harita was carrying a boy. "Thank God for that," beamed the lady doctor who had stayed to see the result. Harita and Mohan were then led to a second room away from the main reception. The receptionist came in to collect the money out of view of the two other women in the waiting room. "It seemed clear they did these scans routinely, despite them being illegal," Harita said. "The doctors were very calm and comfortable with the whole procedure. The clinic looked very professional and clean. "It was as though they were discussing removing a mo le. "It was all hush-hush on the money side, and it made me feel very upset and dirty. "If you had the same conversation with a British GP they would have been absolutely appalled." Dr Telang declined to comment when contacted by the Mail. Two other clinics also performed a scan, with one of the doctors saying they could send Harita off to a "nursing home" if she was carrying a girl. One charged 10,000 rupees, the other 5,000 rupees. "They never used the word termination or abortion, but it was absolutely clear what we were talking about," she said. One of the clinics, a room which looked like a shop front, was occupied by just a radiographer with no other doctor on hand. The clinic was next to a pharmacy advertising "Abortion By Tablet" on the front door. "I felt sick seeing that sign because it was so obvious women simply pop in one door to see the sex of the baby and then pop next door and take a pill if it's a girl to make it go away," she said. Harita had been keen to help with the investigation after visiting Punjab a couple of months earlier and reading about the "selective abortions" in a local newspaper report which claimed a number of foetuses had been dumped by a well. She was also horrified to discover that a member of her own extended family from Britain flew to India for the procedure. "One of my relatives told me what another relative did, when a group of us women were chatting. "They were very matter of fact about it and not at all emotional. "They thought it was normal, but I was appalled. "The problem is that in Indian society there is huge pressure to have a boy, because with girls you have the pressure to marry them off. "Boys bring future financial security and continue the family line. It is common for women to have five or six girls but to carry on trying for a boy." Few doctors are prosecuted for breaking the law. And more patients from Britain mean more money. According to Dr Puneet Bedi, one of India's top foetal surgeons, who also runs a private clinic in New Delhi, they are flying out in increasing numbers. "Most people who come back home from Britain to their relatives here find the right doctors with the right connections," he says. It is women like Meena, of course, who are paying a terrible price for this cultural phenomenon. "I do have regrets," she said. "I think about my daughter and how old she might have been now, and how she would have fitted in with the family and with her sisters." Will she try for more children? "If I do, I know I might have to go through the same thing again," she says. "And I can hardly bear to think of losing another child."