The focus on having sons in Asian countries such as Vietnam, China, India and Nepal may fuel sexual violence and trafficking in women, the United Nations (UN) has said in a report.
“Sex ratio imbalances only lead to far-reaching imbalances in the society,” Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, head of the UN Population Fund (UNPF), said in a statement in Hyderabad. “We must carry forward the message that every human being is born equal in dignity, worth and human rights.”
The preference for sons is a result of economic pressure and culture, according to the UN. Sons often support parents in their old age, perform last rites when they die and continue the family name. Daughters are seen as a liability because they contribute little financially to the family and, in some countries, parents must pay a dowry when they marry.
If Asia’s overall sex ratio was the same as elsewhere in the world, in 2005 it would have had 163 million more women and girls, according to studies commissioned by UNPF and published on Tuesday.
Greater access to ultrasound and amniocentesis to determine the sex of a foetus and a rise in the abortion of female foetuses will mean more men are unable to find wives, the UN said.
“A number of reports have revealed young women being kidnapped or lured by job offers and sold as forced brides into distant poor areas of China,” according to the studies.
In Vietnam and Nepal, researchers found the preference for sons is “pervasive” and those who want to avoid having daughters can do so easily. The UN said the two countries must adopt measures to avoid India and China’s situation; India and China have the biggest imbalances between births of boys and girls. “Vietnam is in almost the same situation now as China was 10 years ago,” the studies said.
In China, 120 males were born for every 100 females in 2005, according to the UN. India’s 2001 census revealed that 108 males were born for every 100 females, and as many as 120 for every 100 females in northern and western areas of the country.
The Chinese government has begun to address the problem. The Communist Party Central Committee and State Council vowed in a statement earlier this year to take “tough measures” to control the imbalance, the state-run Xinhua news agency has reported.
The report said China would increase supervision of institutions with access to technologies used for sex testing and severely punish people who conduct illegal gender testing and abortions.
While in China sex selection is more common in rural areas, in India it is more prevalent among wealthier urban families, according to the studies. Indian families that are yet to produce a boy are less likely to have a female as their second or third child, according to a study published in the UK medical journal Lancet in January last year. The deficit of girls born as second children is more than twice as large among educated mothers as among illiterate women. Indians may have aborted 10 million female foetuses in the past two decades, the Lancet study said.
India has also started to try to address the problem, according to the UN. New laws are being passed to cut discriminatory inheritance rules and curb domestic violence, while civil society groups are seeking to raise awareness about the problem. Bloomberg