NEW DELHI (AFP) — Internet giants Google and Microsoft have pulled adverts for sex selection products and other services considered illegal in India after being threatened with legal action, activists said Thursday.
India's Supreme Court had last month asked the two companies plus Yahoo to respond to a complaint that they were illegally advertising do-it-yourself kits and expensive genetic techniques to find out an unborn baby's gender.
Activists said the products -- which have not been scientifically proven to be accurate or safe -- damage efforts to stem mass abortions of girls because of a traditional preference for boys in India.
"Sponsored links in Google have come down considerably. They have disappeared from Microsoft India search," activist Sabu George, who filed the petition, told AFP.
A random search for "gender selection" on Yahoo, however, produces links to resources and clinics offering to help people choose the gender of their child.
Yahoo India was not immediately available for comment.
There are 927 females for every 1,000 males in India compared to the worldwide average of 1,050 females. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) says India loses 7,000 girls daily through abortion.
Google said it will "review the petition carefully."
"In India, we do not allow ads for the promotion of pre-natal gender determination or pre-conception sex selection. We take local laws extremely seriously," the company said in a statement.
India -- the world's second most populous country -- has the highest number of births, with 27 million children born every year, making it a lucrative market for gender selection products.
"As of now, not a single product has been scientifically proven but they will become accurate sooner than later," said Puneet Bedi, a gynaecology consultant at New Delhi's Apollo hospital.
"Eventually, they will be misused for sex determination," Bedi told AFP.
Most Indians prefer sons, who are typically regarded as breadwinners, while girls are seen as a burden because of the matrimonial dowry demanded by a groom's family and the fact that their earnings go to their husband's family.
Currently, the most popular way to know the gender of a foetus is through an ultrasound test, which costs as little as five dollars, and is banned in India for that purpose.
Activists say abortions of female foetuses shot up dramatically in the 1990s once ultrasound tests became widely available and affordable in India.
"What ultrasound did for female foeticide in the 1990s, these new products have the potential to do in the next few decades. We have to be one step ahead of them," said activist George.
No estimates were available for the number of Indians using gender determination products.
"If the advertisements are there, people must be buying them," George told AFP.
In a similar legal row in Britain, Google agreed this week to change its policy on abortion-related advertisements by religious groups after a pro-life Christian group challenged the company in court for refusing its advert.
"This is an important issue of free speech and religious liberty," the Christian Institute said in a statement on its website after the legal proceedings were "settled on amicable terms."
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