Concerns over Population Demography: Is selective abortion skewing gender balance?

Concerns over Population Demography: Is selective abortion skewing gender balance?

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In more concerns surrounding procreation in Armenia, the Council of Europe (CoE) raises an alarm that more boys than girl are born in Armenia. This contradicts the proportionality defined by the nature, and “leads to serious suspects” that selective abortions determined by a child’s sex are done in Armenia, which may have “serious social, demographic consequences.”

On October 3, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted the “Prenatal sex selection” resolution, which says that the disproportion in sex selection is “alarming” in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Albania.

It has been internationally certified that naturally more boys than girls are born, 105-106 boys for 100 girls (‘skewed sex ratio’), but male children die more often than female babies, as a result of which boy-girl proportionality becomes equal during adulthood.

Nevertheless, the data of the National Statistical Service indicate that the number of boys born in 2010 is about 3,000 more than girls, that is to say, 100 girls for 114 boys, which exceeds the accepted norm by nine. According to PACE resolution, boys outnumber girls by 112 to 100 in Armenia.

Currently the number of women is a bit higher than men in Armenia – 51.5 percent; however, if selective abortions are not prevented, demographers say that in two decades Armenia will have a ‘women deficit’.

“There is about a ten percent deviation. Taking these figures into account it is easy to predict that in some 20 years we will have at least 15,000 fewer women than men, hence 30,000 fewer births for our population, which faces serious demographic problems. Losing female children who are potential mothers is a serious issue,” says Garik Hayrapetyan, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Assistant Representative.

The PACE resolution appeals to “investigate the causes and reasons behind skewed sex ratios at birth; to step up efforts to raise the status of women in society” throughout the whole territory of Armenia.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has already initiated a similar research; the results of which are expected at the end of the year. According to Hayrapetyan, they will indicate the degree of the population’s natural proportionality deviation.

Traditionally male children are entitled with a high status in Armenia; even there are popular expressions in the Armenian folk lore, confirming it: “A real man will have a son,” “Are you a boy or a girl?” (meaning “Are you good or bad?” ‘Bad’ means ‘girl’ here), etc.

However, a ten percent deviation has been registered in Armenia within the recent ten years; specialists believe this is caused by technological development.

“Before, if people wanted to have sons they had children as long as they finally had baby boys, because they could not know their child’s sex beforehand [before it was born]. However, now parallel to the technological development, this problem occurred, because everybody wants to have children with both sexes, but they cannot afford having many children,” says Karine Saribekyan, head of Mother and Child Healthcare Department of the Ministry of Healthcare.

Abortion or artificial termination of pregnancy is not prohibited by law in Armenia, however, under the RA Law on ‘Human reproductive health and reproductive rights’ it may be done only before the 12th week of pregnancy.

According to data of the National Statistical Service, about 10,000 abortions (about 16 percent of impregnated births) are registered in Armenia annually. However, specialists of the sphere state that the real figures are even higher, because very often abortions are done after the 12th week, when it is possible to disclose a fetus’ (embryo’s) sex, and the latter are not usually registered because of being illegal.

Doctor-gynecologist at the Armenian-American Mammography Wellness Center
Nelly Avagyan’s experience showed that majority of abortions is because of a child’s sex.

“This is an Armenian way of thinking – to have sons by all means, even though abortions of boys are also registered, but the number of aborted girls prevails,” Avagyan says.

PACE experts state in the resolution that the quantitative inequality among men and women caused by selective abortion may bring about serious problems: “difficulties for men to find spouses, lead to serious human rights violations such as forced prostitution, trafficking for the purposes of marriage or sexual exploitation, and contribute to a rise in criminality and social unrest.”

According to experts, this problem now exists in China and India - the limitation on the number of children led to proportionality break. In China, for example, adult men prevail over women by 15 million, and the divergence among men and women under 20 reaches 32 million.

The draft resolution has even urged “not to provide any information about a fetus’ sex,” however there was fear that the prohibition will create additional corruption risks, so the final document recommends that “all relevant public authorities issue guidelines to all medical staff who work in this field so that when information is provided on the sex of the fetus – in line with existing legal regulations – such information is presented positively, irrespective of the sex of the fetus.”

“The solution of this problem should be done from different sides. First, people’s attitude towards women must be changed. And finally when it is constantly mentioned that we need soldiers, we must remember that these soldiers need mothers to give them birth,” Hayrapetyan says.