Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have agreed to block ads for Indian services that help determine a baby’s sex before birth, adhering to laws intended to address one of the world’s worst gender imbalances.
All three companies pledged to honour bans on the promotion of sexual-determination tests and related products, the health ministry told India’s Supreme Court on Monday. The court was hearing a case that sought the abolition of all content on search engines that promote such services.
India’s highest court this year reproached the search giants for disregarding domestic regulations, and warned them to abide by the law or cease operations in the country. But the trio of companies had said sweeping bans on offending key-words would also block non-promotional content such as research reports and news articles. The health ministry didn’t say during Monday’s testimony how the companies intended to effect the ban.
Female foeticide and infanticide are serious issues in India, where there were 943 females per 1,000 males according to the last nationwide census in 2011. Conducting, selling and advertising fetal sex-selection services was made a punishable offense in 1994, thus outlawing sex-determination and abortions. Yet thousands of female foetuses are aborted secretly every year in clinics across local communities with a strong preference for sons.
Some parents prefer sons because they’re considered more reliable bread-winners and better able to carry on the family name. Male children are known to get better nutrition and education and a 2015 United Nations report said India had one of the world’s most skewed sex ratios in the under-five age group. The UN added that 100 girls die by the age of five, compared with 93 boys.
Google said it has taken action to prevent searches and advertising to comply with local laws. That includes disabling auto-complete predictions for relevant terms on its site and showing a warning that tells users pre-natal gender screening or testing is illegal in India.
Yahoo said in an email the company can’t comment because the matter is subjudice. Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.