TOPICS: Sex-selective abortions reaching dangerous levels

Experts at the 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights are painting an apocalyptical vision of the Asian region where 163 million women are ‘missing’ and the sex ratio continues to decline as a result of easy access to modern gender selection techniques. China tops the list with a skewed sex ratio at birth (SRB) with just 100 females for every 120 males. India follows going by the country’s 2001 census, which revealed that the SRB had fallen to 108 males per 100 females.

Experts worry that unless action is taken, Nepal and Vietnam may soon have skewed SRBs. Countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh are already beginning to follow Asia’s largest countries with people resorting to medical technology to do away with the girl child at the foetal stage. “We place it (skewed SRB) in the context of discrimination against women,” said Purnima Mane, deputy executive director UNFPA. “Women are not valued.” She predicted that a continuing unhealthy SRB trend could lead to increased violence, migration and trafficking as well as greater pressures on women.

“When there is no economic recognition to women’s work and no social value attached to this particular gender, when resource sharing remains inequitable, when women are paid less then it becomes easier to do away with this gender,” said Renuka Chowdhry, India’s junior minister for women and child development, at the inaugural of the Oct 29-31 conference. She called for increased women’s political participation and a push for laws and legislations that empower them as remedy to the adverse sex ratio.

But where have all the girls gone? The sobering answer to the unbalanced SRB, according to the latest series of studies commissioned by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), lies in modern gender determination and selective abortions. French demographer Christophe Guilmoto, author of the UNFPA’s regional report ‘Sex ratio Imbalance in Asia,’ based on studies conducted in China, India, Nepal and Vietnam referred to it as ‘gendercide’ in which parents resort to a variety of techniques to ensure male offspring.

Choosing gender had become easy with the arrival of amniocentesis in the late 1970s and later with ultrasound imaging technologies. In 2005, the estimated overall sex ratio was 107.5 males per 100 females in India, as against 106.8 in China, 106.0 in Pakistan and 104.9 in Bangladesh.

Many countries already have tight regulations. India started as early as 1983, followed by South Korea in 1987 and China in 1989. Nepal banned sex-selective abortions in 2002 when it liberalised its own law on abortions.

“The role of girls and women (in society) needs to be applauded,” suggested Guilmoto. “Supporting girls or those families that only have girls can take many forms — direct subsidies at the time of birth, various scholarship programmes, gender-based quotas or financial incentives aimed at improving their economic situation,” UNFPA recommends in its report. — IPS