Magazine article Newsweek

No Girls, Please: In Parts of Asia, Sexism Is Ingrained and Gender Selection Often Means Murder

Magazine article Newsweek

No Girls, Please: In Parts of Asia, Sexism Is Ingrained and Gender Selection Often Means Murder

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Carmichael

For years Rukmini Devi helped Indian couples in the impoverished state of Bihar choose the sex of their children. But in her decades of work, she never once used PGD. Bihar has few ultrasound machines and fewer fertility labs; many of its towns lack even basic health clinics, and most couples don't know their children's gender before birth. But boys are a treasured commodity in Bihar, and if a couple can't choose a child's sex prenatally, they can see a dai like Devi. For 80 cents, says Devi, who is now retired, a dai will help a woman give birth. For 80 cents more, she will take a newborn girl, hold her upside down by the waist and "give a sharp jerk," snapping the spinal cord. She will then declare the infant stillborn. "Many couples insist that we get rid of the baby girl at birth," Devi says. "What can we do?"

It is a question health officials in parts of Asia have been struggling to answer for years. Like most European countries, India, China and South Korea have banned sex selection in any form. High-tech sperm sorting and PGD are just too complex and expensive to catch on in poor areas, even as black-market operations. But the abortion of female fetuses persists--and where it is not available, infanticide takes its place. The cultural bias stems largely from the need for strong boys to do farm labor, but the problem is not limited to poor, rural areas. In prosperous parts of India, clinics regularly identify and abort female fetuses using the same technologies--ultrasound and amniocentesis--they might employ to ensure fetal health. Korean doctors also use ultrasound to detect gender. Under national law they should be jailed, but since the law was made in the 1980s, only about 30 doctors have lost their licenses. Meanwhile experts estimate that 30,000 Korean female fetuses are aborted annually. …

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