Preference for sons in Asia could have severe social consequences: UN agency

Preference for sons in Asia could have severe social consequences: UN agency

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Prenatal son selection in several Asian countries could result in severe social consequences – such as a surge in sexual violence and trafficking of women – in the coming years, according to new studies commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Prenatal son selection in several Asian countries could result in severe social consequences – such as a surge in sexual violence and trafficking of women – in the coming years, according to new studies commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

As girls and women become outnumbered by men as a result of ultrasound or amniocentesis to determine the sex of foetuses and abort unwanted females, more males will be unable to find wives and pressures to conform and comply will increase, the reports noted.

“Sex ratio imbalances only lead to far-reaching imbalances in the society at large,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said today in a statement delivered by Deputy Executive Director Purnima Mane at the Fourth Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights held in Hyderabad, India.

“And in response, we must carry forward the message that every human being is born equal in dignity, worth and human rights.”

Preference for sons is deeply rooted in many Asian countries for both cultural and economic reasons. If dowries must be paid, daughters could be viewed as a liability, and older parents typically rely on their sons for support and to perform last rights or ancestor worship.

The studies warn that unless Viet Nam and Nepal adopt response measures, they, too, will face problems similar to those of India and China, the countries with the most dramatic imbalance between the births of boys and girls.

In China, 120 males – and up to 130 in several provinces – were born for every 100 females in 2005, while in India, the 2001 census revealed that 108 males – and up to 120 in some northern and western areas – were born for every 100 females.

While in China, sex selection is more widespread in rural areas, in India it is more prevalent among better-off urban families.

“Viet Nam is in almost the same situation now as China was 10 years ago,” the studies said, adding that the South-East Asian nation’s sex ratio at birth could become gravely imbalanced within a decade.

Meanwhile in southern Nepal, researches found that most people are aware that they could access ultrasound clinics and abortion providers in India willing to defy laws prohibiting sex selection.

In both Viet Nam and Nepal, researchers interviewed officials and held focus groups, concluding that the preference for sons is pervasive, and that those who want to avoid bearing daughters could do so easily.

Currently in China, the “Care for Girls” programme which combines public education with practical steps such as bolstering support for older people could soon be rolled out nationally, and in India, civil society groups are making great efforts to raise public awareness and new laws are being codified to slash discriminatory inheritance rules and curb domestic violence.

Similar initiatives are necessary to stem the tide of the issue in both Viet Nam and Nepal, the studies said.