Five United Nations agencies have banded together to call for urgently addressing gender-biased sex selection favouring boys, a common practice in many parts of South, East and Central Asia that they say fuels a culture of discrimination and violence.
“Sex selection in favour of boys is a symptom of pervasive social, cultural, political and economic injustices against women, and a manifest violation of women's human rights,” says a statement issued by the agencies, which have reviewed the evidence behind the causes, consequences and lessons learned regarding “son preference.”
Often under intense pressure to produce a son, women seek to discover the sex of a foetus through ultrasound. The discovery of a female foetus can then lead to its abortion.
Sex selection can also take place before a pregnancy is established, or after the birth of a girl, through child neglect or infanticide, they add. Over decades, the practice has caused a sex-ratio imbalance in many countries particularly in South Asia, East Asia and Central Asia – with ratios in some places as high as 130 boys for every 100 girls.
“There is huge pressure on women to produce sons… which not only directly affects women's reproductive decisions, with implications for their health and survival, but also puts women in a position where they must perpetuate the lower status of girls through son preference,” they say.
“It is also women who have to bear the consequences of giving birth to an unwanted girl child. These consequences can include violence, abandonment, divorce or even death,” according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The imbalance between the number of men and women owing to sex selection can in some areas lead to the trafficking of women for forced marriages from other regions or the sharing of brides among brothers, the agencies point out.
“Renewed and concerted efforts are needed by governments and civil society to address the deeply rooted gender discrimination which lies at the heart of sex selection,” the experts noted.
They propose concrete steps to tackle the problem, including the collection of more reliable data on the extent of the problem and the factors driving it; guidelines on the use of technology for health professionals; supportive measures for girls and women, such as incentives for families with only daughters; and other legal and awareness-raising actions.