Gender Selective Abortion


The most recent invisible phenomenon of modern day world in reproductive health is Gender selective abortion. Abortion is spontaneous, unintended and unfortunate event for some people whereas sometimes abortion is induced due to various reasons, mostly preclude the probable danger to the life of pregnant women. Nevertheless, this advancement of safe abortion in medical field has been also used as the sex selection tool for the birth of desired offspring aborting fetus of undesired sex.

This phenomenon has been observed especially in those countries, where the patriarchy prevails and the birth is restricted by law or societal pressures. Even though profound effect of this phenomenon, the intensity of this problem is difficult to measure. Measuring female to male ratio at the time of birth is one of the indirect methods of the underlying gender selective abortion. Direct measurement of gender selective abortion is particularly challenging because of its ethical, moral, legal and social ground. The secrets are guarded and the population scientists are unable to measure the depth of this problem.

The abortion policy in Nepal allows abortion up to 12 weeks of fetal age with the consent of pregnant woman unlike previous laws and only woman can decide whether to continue or discontinue the pregnancy. Although Nepal has engendered a very liberal abortion policy since 2002, to abort a fetus based on its sex is strictly illegal and considered criminal act in Nepal. So, many abortions might occur undercover. Hence, the indirect measurement of selective abortion such as sex ratio, population sex ratio, desired gender composition could be suitable tools to measure the gravity of sex selective abortion. Many researchers have figured out falling sex ratio at the time of birth as reflection of this phenomenon.

Factors of gender preference and sex selective abortion

Macro level Factors

Here I would like to focus on certain Macro level factors of sex selective abortion.

  • Socio-Cultural dimension: Culture is important aspect of our life. We live and learn the culture from the day we are born. Similarly the perception that prefer sons over daughters has been passed down from one generation to another generation as an integral part of culture. Many of our countries in the world, the society is patriarchal and males are head of the households, they are the ones who forms social networking and maintains the boundary, integrity and function of the social net. Males are given higher position in that society and they are required for any ritual procedures during vital events like birth and death. I would like to particularly specify an example in Nepal. Couples are pressurized to have at least one son as they feel that if they are not given funeral pyre by their son, they wouldn't be able to go to heaven after life and daughters are not allowed to involve in such ritual. Though, many daughters have come forward to break this stereotype, It still is ingrained in minds of many people.
  • Economic Transition:Our traditional society was agrarian where the larger number of offsprings would be desirable assets to the family. Sons were valued the most because of their high physical strength and utility compared to daughters. Yet, they could be help to the household chores and strengthening the family relationships. There was negligent concept of child health and care so the number of offsprings was not an issue of high concerns but with human civilization and modernization, child care and the number of children in the family have been central focus of the family now. Higher number of offsprings have also been stigmatized as a sign of ignorance. High investment in child care, concern about the number of children and fixed attitude towards gender; son as must-have offspring have led the many men and women taking such decisions.
  • Technological advancement:Technological advancement has also been a contributing factor in sex selective abortion to some extent. Early detection of sex of the fetus with advanced ultrasonography and claimed safe abortion procedures serves to make decision for the trade for women health and the child of desired sex.
  • Demographic transition and Policy: As the population growth rate and the fertility rate were high, the government in China came up with the "One child policy". Similarly, the government led family health programs in Nepal came up with the slogans of two children . These official and unofficial government policies have also fueled the limitation of birth and consequently, gender selective abortion in invisible way.

By Pramila Rai


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