By Tom Ashbrook, Host of NPR's On Point, from the website,June 8, 2011
Nature knows how to balance men and women, males and females, boy and girl babies, and has done it well for eons.
But these days, humans are intervening on a large scale –- and tipping the gender balance sharply to males.
In China and India, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Vietnam and more, pregnancies that would make girl babies are being aborted. Young boys are sharply, unnaturally, outnumbering girls.
It’s an ethical issue. Moral issue. And a looming social issue.
What will these male-heavy societies be like one day?
One of Mr. Ashbrook's guests was Mara Hvistendahl, Beijing-based correspondent for Science Magazine and author of Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.
Using nature's ratio of 105:100 men to women, accounting for such male "things" as war, risk-taking behaviour, accidents and the like, nature seems to "know" just about the right ratio.
However, with the advent of new technology, especially the ultra-sound, enabling women to learn the gender of their fetus, in several countries the ratio is being deliberately changed. According to statistics from this program, in China the ratio now is 121:100.
The implications of this dramatic shift in demographics are many, some of them serious. They include "bride grabbing", sex trafficking, and the prospect of many men unable to find female partners. As one caller put it, from her research, male testosterone lowers when they marry, and rises as they remain single.
Imagine, for a moment, thousands of unmarried men hungry for female partners, unable to satisfy that hunger...and think of the potential for anger, violence, crime and even war as a consequence of that development.
While there are programs in countries like China to incentivise couples to conceive, deliver and raise female children, they are not working, according to Ms Hvistendahl. Many of the couples engaged in aborting their female children are wealthy and financial incentives do not carry much weight with them. Also according to this author, an authority on the subject, the practice of aborting female babies is not patterned along religious lines.
When the notion that babies might be murdered following their birth was introduced by Mr. Ashbrook, his guest quickly dispelled any fears about that possibility, saying that most cases involved abortions prior to term.
Of course, any North American is appalled just to know that such decisions are being made in 2011. in any countries and certainly in too many countries. What's more, the facts speak to our dismal lack of conscious awareness of the cultures of many other countries, with whom we share this fragile planet. And, what's more, these decisions do not bode well for either men or women, especially when we consider how difficult it is for many young girls to attend school in countries like Afghanistan, where clearly males are nearly completely in control.
From the National Post, November 12, 2004
Any Canadian undecided on the ethics of gender selection can put her or his conflicted feelings aside: Ottawa made it illegal in April, a little-noticed part of sweeping federal legislation that banned human cloning, regulated stem cell research and made it a crime to pay for sperm and egg donation as well as surrogacy.
But the possibility of jail time and fines has not stopped Canadian couples from travelling to the U.S. to try for a boy or girl, says Dr. Keith Blauer, Microsort's medical director.
Nor has it stopped Canadians from going to the U.S. to access a more controversial technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) that uses in vitro fertilization (IVF) to create embryos outside the womb, and then to implant only those of the desired gender. The technique is not new. Couples undergoing IVF have long been able to test embryos for genetic diseases before they are implanted, including gender-linked disabilities.
From the World Health Organization website:
Preventing gender-biased sex selection
An interagency statement
OHCHR, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO
The biologically normal sex ratio at birth ranges from 102 to 106 males per 100 females. However,
ratios higher than normal – sometimes as high as 130 – have been observed. This is now causing
increasing concern in some South Asian, East Asian and Central Asian countries.
The tradition of patrilineal inheritance in many societies coupled with a reliance on boys to provide economic support, to ensure security in old age and to perform death rites are part of a set of social norms that place greater value on sons than daughters. In addition, a general trend towards declining family size, occasionally fostered by stringent policies restricting the number of children people are allowed to have, is reinforcing
a deeply rooted preference for male offspring. As a result, women are often under immense family and
societal pressure to produce sons. Failure to do so may lead to consequences that include violence,
rejection by the marital family or even death.
Women may have to continue becoming pregnant until a boy is born, thus putting their health and
their life at risk. Sex selection can take place before a pregnancy is established, during pregnancy through prenatal sex detection and selective abortion, or following birth through infanticide or child neglect. Sex selection is sometimes used for family balancing purposes but far more typically occurs because of a systematic preference for boys. Although the relatively recent availability of technologies for the early
determination of sex has provided an additional method for sex selection, this is not the root cause
of the problem. Where the underlying context of son preference does not exist, the availability of
techniques to determine sex does not necessarily lead to their use for sex selection.
States have an obligation under human rights laws to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of
girls and women. In addition, more than 180 States are signatories to the 1994 Programme of Action
of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). As part of this undertaking
States agreed to:
. . . eliminate all forms of discrimination against thegirl child and the root causes of son preference, which
result in harmful and unethical practices regarding female infanticide and prenatal sex selection.
United Nations (1994); paragraph 4.16
At the same time, States have an obligation to ensure that these injustices are addressed
without exposing women to the risk of death or serious injury by denying them access to needed
services such as safe abortion to the full extent of the law. Such an outcome would represent a
further violation of their rights to life and health as guaranteed in international human rights treaties,
and committed to in international development agreements.
Governments in affected countries have undertaken a number of measures in an attempt
to halt increasing sex-ratio imbalances. Some have passed laws to restrict the use of technology
for sex-selection purposes and in some cases for sex-selective abortion. These laws have largely had
little effect in isolation from broader measures to address underlying social and gender inequalities.
In some settings, legal and policy measures aimed at redressing deep-seated inequalities between
boys and girls have been passed. These include laws for more equitable patterns of inheritance, and
measures such as direct subsidies at the time of a girl’s birth, scholarship programmes, gender-based
school quotas or financial incentives, or pension programmes for families with girls only. These
efforts have often been coupled with campaigns to raise awareness and to change people’s mindsets
and attitudes towards girls. Governments have thus already taken action in a number of ways, with
varying degrees of success, and there are lessons that can be learnt from this.
Abbreviations and Acronyms from the statement
CEDAW Convention on the Elimination of All-forms of Discrimination against Women
CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child
CVS chorionic villus sampling
ICCPR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
ICESCR International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
ICPD International Conference on Population and Development
JSK Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh – National Population Stabilisation Fund.
OHCHR Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
PGD pre-implantation genetic diagnosis
SRB sex ratio at birth
UNFPA United Nation Population Fund
UNICEF The United Nations Children’s Fund
UN Women United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
WHO World Health Organization