In many countries there is a deeply rooted cultural preference for male children. Costly dowries, discriminatory property and family laws, and the perception that female children are not a good “investment” often makes families prefer the birth of a male child. As a result, in many countries, harmful practices exist which ensure the birth of male children and/or result in the neglect or killing of the female children. Such gender inequality and the low status of women result in sex-selective abortions or the practice of killing girl babies after they are born. Modern technology has exacerbated the prevalence of sex-selective abortions. In countries where son preference, female infanticide, and sex-selective abortions are common, the gender ratio of the population is significantly skewed. Experts link this imbalance with increases in other forms of gender violence such as rape and forced marriage.
In addition, to addressing the specific manifestations of son preference directly, legislation should support efforts to create broader social change to the traditional value systems and institutions that are biased against women and girls and perpetuate son preference among other forms of violence against women. (See: No More Excuses, p. 16-17; Sex Imbalances at Birth: Current trends, consequences and policy implications, UNFPA, August 2012.)
Legislation addressing these forms of harmful practice should include the following elements:
Video: “Missing Girls - Family Planning in China” – This video describes the positive effects of less restrictive birth limitations coupled with advocacy and incentives on decreasing gender imbalance in Hainan Province in China.
Webcast: “Tackling Gender Discrimination to Reduce Sex Selection” – This webcast “explains the factors behind the persistence and rise of the missing girls phenomenon and explores efforts to stem the trend.” The webcast discusses the positive effects of advocacy in South Korea and other countries to change discriminatory gender attitudes that promote son preference and related harmful practices.
Example: United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Minorities Plan of Action for the Elimination of Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children
The United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Minorities adopted a Plan of Action for the Elimination of Harmful Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children. The Plan sets forth the following as a plan to address the specific harmful practice of son preference, female infanticide, and sex-selective abortions:
(14) The family being the basic institution from where gender biases emanate, wide-ranging motivational campaigns should be launched to educate parents to value the worth of a girl child, so as to eliminate such biases.
(15) In view of the scientific fact that male chromosomes determine the sex of children, it is necessary to emphasize that the mother is not responsible for selection. Governments must, therefore, actively attempt to change the misconceptions regarding the responsibilities of the mother in determining the sex of the child.
(16) Non-discriminatory legislation on succession and inheritance should be introduced.
(17) In the light of the dominant role religion plays in shaping the image of women in each society, efforts should be made to remove misconceptions in religious teachings which reinforce the unequal status of women.
(18) Governments should mobilize all educational institutions and the media to change negative attitudes and values towards the female gender and project a positive image of women in general, and the girl-child in particular.
(19) Immediate measures should be taken by Governments to introduce and implement compulsory primary education and free secondary education and to increase the access of girls to technical education. Affirmative action in this field should be adopted in favour of the promotion of girls' education to achieve gender equity. Parents should be motivated to ensure the education of their daughters.
(20) Considering the importance of promoting self-esteem as a prerequisite for their higher status of women in the family and the community, Governments should take effective measures to ensure that women have access to and have control over economic resources, including land, credit, employment and other institutional facilities.
(21) Measures must be taken to provide free health care and services to women and children (in particular, girls) and to promote health consciousness among women with emphasis on their own basic health needs.
(22) Governments should regularly conduct nutritional surveys, identify nutritional gender disparities and undertake special nutritional programmes in areas where malnutrition in various forms is manifested.
(23) Governments should also undertake nutritional education programmes to address, inter alia, the special nutritional needs of women at various stages of their life cycle.
(24) As son preference is often associated with future security, Governments should take measures to introduce a social security system especially for widows, women-headed families and the aged.
(25) Governments are urged to take measures to eliminate gender stereotyping in the educational system, including removing gender bias from the curricula and other teaching materials.
(26) Governments should encourage by all means the activities of non-governmental organizations concerned with this problem.
(27) Women's organizations should mobilize all efforts to eradicate prejudicial and internalized values which project a diminished image of women. They should take action towards raising awareness among women about their potential and self-esteem, the lack of which is one of the factors for perpetuating discrimination.
(28) Public opinion makers, national institutions, religious leaders, political parties, trade unions, legislators, educators, medical practitioners and all other organizations should be actively involved in combating all forms of discrimination against women and girls.
(29) Gender disaggregated data on morbidity, mortality, education, health, employment and political participation should be collected regularly, analysed and utilized for the formulation of policy and programmes for girls and women.
In addition, the Plan states:
(49) Female infanticide and female foeticide should be openly condemned by all Governments as a flagrant violation of the basic right to life of the girl-child.
The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act of 1994 was enacted in 1996 to curb the increasingly low female-to-male ratio by making sex-selective abortions illegal in India. After its enactment the Act continued to be amended to address newer technologies for the selection of sex before and after conception. In 2003, the title of the Act became “The Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act” and the preamble was amended to read:
“An Act to provide for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception, and for regulation of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for the purposes of detecting abnormalities or metabolic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities or certain congenital malformations or sex-linked disorders and for the prevention of their misuse for sex determination leading to female foeticide and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
The Act consists of eight chapters which define:
The Act prohibits and penalizes the use of any form of technology to determine and disclose the sex of a fetus. The Act specifically prohibits any person, such as a husband or family member, from pressuring the woman to seek or undergo any pre-natal diagnostic testing for the purposes of determining the sex of the fetus. It also prohibits and punishes any advertisements relating to pre-natal sex determination. The Act allows for the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for the detection of genetic abnormalities or pregnancy complications but restricts those procedures to specific registered institutions and by qualified personnel who have to abide by clear rules set forth in the Act.
See: Handbook on Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 and Rules with Amendments, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, 2006
Albania’s 2002 reproductive health law specifically states that “[d]uring the use of assisted reproductive technologies, the selection of the sex of the future child is not permitted, except for cases where there is a possibility of inheriting illnesses connected with sex.” This article is interpreted to prohibit the use of prenatal screening technologies as a guide to perform sex-selective abortions.See: Sex-Selective Abortion Trending in Albania, WeNews, 29 January 2013.