Detailed, new analysis published this week in Open British Medical Journal (BMJ) highlights significant concern about a growing problem of gender-selective abortion for girls in Nepal.
Based on the census data from 2011 and the data from the follow-up surveys from 2016, the social scientists estimate that between 2006 and 2011 about one in 50 girl births was “missing” in the records (i.e. it was canceled) (a total of 22,540 girl births). In the year before the census (June 2010 – June 2011) that number had risen to one in 38.
The practice was more widespread in certain areas of the country. In Arghakhanchi, the hardest-hit district, every sixth girl was missing from the census data. In the Kathmandu Valley, the most important urban center in Nepal, around 115 boys are born for every 100 girls. Without gender selection, we would expect only 105 boys out of 100 girls.
It has been widely recognized for many years that in Nepal, sons are preferred over daughters. While boys are viewed as an economic and social asset, in some parts of the country girls are more likely to be viewed as a financial burden who need a dowry and who leave home after marriage.
However, it was only since the Abortion Act in 2002 and the widespread availability of ultrasound in 2004 that the potential for selectively aborting female fetuses has existed. There have been growing concerns about this practice in recent years, but little empirical research to date on the extent of the problem.
Abortions based on gender test results are both illegal and imprisonment in Nepal. However, the researchers at the BMJ Open point out that these laws are not being effectively enforced. It is estimated that more than half of abortions were illegal in 2014, leaving direct legislation limited in scope to address this problem.
A deeper analysis by the team found that the gender balance was skewed, with richer and more educated women more likely to have gender-selective abortions. They also found that in districts where there was greater gender selection, girls aged five were more likely to die than boys, suggesting discrimination both before and after birth.
The main author Dr. Melanie Channon of the Department of Social & Policy Sciences at the University of Bath said: “As fertility declines and urbanization increases, there is more access to prenatal gender identification technologies in Nepal. Our study shows some of the effects this has had over time over the past several years, and we anticipate that the ability to choose a baby’s sex from the richest and most educated will diminish as technology becomes more available and more becomes more affordable. There will be an increase in gender-selective abortion in Nepal.
“It is important to emphasize that the solution to this growing problem is not to ban abortion or ultrasound scans during pregnancy. Many lives have been – and are – saved by these policies inequality established across the country so that people no longer want to selectively abort female fetuses. The Nepalese government must take a pioneering role here and combine media campaigns with legal and political measures that thematically address the issue of gender equality deal in the country. “
The paper’s co-author, Dr. Mahesh Puri, of the Center for Research Environments, Health and Population Activities (CREHPA) in Nepal, added: “Given the easy access to prenatal gender determination technology, religious and socio-economic values taught to sons, combined with a lack of targeted policies and programs Tackling gender inequality and weak enforcement of sex-identification tests, the practice of gender-selective abortion could increase in the future.
“Targeted interventions to enable gender equality, increase the value of girls, and social and economic incentives for vulnerable girls, such as conditional cash transfer systems and effective law enforcement, would be needed.”
The team behind the report calls on the Nepalese government to recognize this problem and to adapt a cross-sectoral national strategy to combat it.
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