By Xavier Symons
In these pages we have published a number of stories documenting the practice of sex-selective abortion in India and China; it is, however, not restricted to these countries. Rates of sex-selective abortion in Nepal are incredibly high, even though the practice is technically prohibited and hardly ever mentioned in Western media.
One heart-stopping statistic tells the story: for second births among the richest urban women, just 325 girls were born for every 1,000 boys.
University of Oxford demographer Melanie Dawn Frost was the lead author of a paper in BMJ Open about widespread sex-selective abortion in Nepal since abortion was legalised in 2002.
She found that as soon as abortion became readily available, the sex-ratio began to drop. Several factors were at work, but the decline in the fertility rate was particularly important. “Nepal has seen one of the most dramatic fertility declines in history, with the total fertility rate falling from 4.1 to 2.6 in just 10 years,” she observed. As family size shrinks, it becomes more important for the second child to be a boy, if the first was a girl.
According to Frost’s research, in the late 2000s (2007-2010) the sex-ratio for second-order births [the second child born to a woman] was drastically skewed, with just 742 girls being born per 1,000 boys. Prior to legalisation of abortion (1998-2000), that ratio was 1,021 to 1000. The ratio of female birth decreased most dramatically among educated and richer women, especially in urban areas.
Media outlets in the subcontinent appear to paying some attention to the issue. A recent Op-Ed in the Kathmandu Post called for action on “gendercide”.
“It is high time we advocated against sex-selective abortion similar to the advocacy for the legalisation of abortion”, wrote University of Melbourne public health student Geha Nath Khanal.
“The preference for a boy child will exist unless daughters prove to be equally capable. But for that to happen, girls need to be provided with equal opportunities as boys”.
Ironically, Frost’s paper suggested that the mere fact that abortion is licit [legal] in the country appeared to be undermining efforts to restrict sex-selective abortion.
Medical authorities in Nepal also seem to be taking action against doctors performing sex-selective abortions in the country. Recently a doctor in Kathmandu had her medical license suspended after an undercover sting exposed a sophisticated gender-selective abortion racket.
Nevertheless, authorities are limited in their ability to restrict the practice; women can cross the border to India to have their babies screened and aborted. The practice, though illegal in India, is still quite widespread. It would seem that a deep-seated societal preference for male children seems to be the driving factor behind the problem.
Editor’s note. This appeared at bioedge.org and is reprinted with permission.