Ranjit Bilkhu, an anti-gender abortion campaigner who grew up in a Sikh Punjabi community in Birmingham, said: ‘On International Women’s Day, of all days, we should be open about this issue. What we are talking about is violence against women and we should recognise it as such.
‘I think the Government is afraid to publish this because it might highlight particular communities that it doesn’t want to marginalise. I know it happens in my community.’
She added: ‘I want to commend the UK on having an Abortion Act where we do not abort on the basis of gender, but I do think that the Department of Health needs to recognise that in particular communities, there is gender violence going on. ‘This is not a race issue; it’s a safeguarding issue.’
Lord Alton, a crossbench peer who campaigns against abortion, said: ‘This is information that should be in the public domain, not least because gender abortions are illegal and it was reported last year that nine clinics had been identified where such abortions are taking place.’
Department of Health officials have analysed boy-girl ratios of all births between 2007 and 2011, broken down by the countries of birth of all the mothers.
Across the UK, 105 boys are born per 100 girls. But some nationalities exceed this, perhaps as high as 108 boys born per 100 girls. This ratio is highly unlikely to be natural, say experts.
However, health ministers refused to publish the list, saying they need to do more work to ensure the high ratios are not merely the result of natural variation.
In countries such as India and China, the practice of aborting babies on the basis of their gender has long been considered a problem. It has not been known whether the practice was happening in the UK.
Last year former health secretary Andrew Lansley ordered an inquiry after undercover reporters found some doctors were agreeing to terminations on the basis of gender.
In January health minister Earl Howe confirmed in the Lords that sex-specific abortions may be happening in the UK.
He said: ‘While the overall United Kingdom birth ratio is within normal limits, analysis of birth data for the years from 2007 to 2011 has found the gender ratios at birth vary by mothers’ country of birth.
‘For a very small number of countries of birth there are indications that birth ratios may differ from the UK as a whole and potentially fall outside of the range considered possible without intervention.’
Last week Lord Alton asked him: ‘Which mothers’ countries of origin display a gender imbalance in the birth ratio, and what in each case is the size of that imbalance?’
Earl Howe replied: ‘Recent analysis has shown that women from some countries had birth ratios different from the UK as a whole, i.e. 100 female births to 105 male births. There are many possible causes of these ratios.
‘The department is carrying out further analysis of related data. We do not consider it is in the public interest to disclose details of the countries in question while this analysis is under way as it is not currently possible to conclude that these variations are the result of intervention rather than natural variation.’
By last night, 51 MPs from all parties had signed an Early Day Motion urging the health department to ‘record the gender of babies aborted… so statistical evidence of crime cannot be hidden’.
Fiona Bruce, the Tory MP who put down the motion, said: ‘It is a tragedy that in countries such as China and India the words “It’s a girl” are not always a source of joy but of danger; the resultant imbalance in the number of young men and women in certain parts of these countries and the problems this causes is surely something which no one in this country can condone.
‘It is right therefore that we challenge any suggestion of the possibility of abortion due to an unborn child’s gender in the UK.
‘After all the endeavours to outlaw and end discrimination, the fact that a baby could be aborted just because she is a girl (or, indeed, a boy) remains the most basic form of discrimination, and concerns about it cross communities, cultures and countries.’