There are women missing, all over the world. It’s because of what journalist Mara Hvistendahl calls “unnatural selection”: the tendency, in countries like China, India, and South Korea, for parents to perform sex-selective abortions in an attempt to have sons. Gender imbalances in newborn children is not confined to eastern Asia, however; it’s also prevalent in western Asia and eastern Europe, and even in some parts of North America. The questions that Hvistendahl asks are important: what does this mean for the world, and why are so few people bothering to ask?
In an interview with Hvistendahl, Time blogger Laura Blue explores the implications of Hvistendahl’s new book, which deals with the issue of sex-selective abortion. Surprisingly, Hvistendahl explains that sex-selective abortion was actually promoted by “American scholars and non-governmental organizations” as a way to curtail population growth, a fear which grew throughout the century.
Compared to some of the solutions that [population control advocates] came up with, sex-selection looked weirdly ethical,” Hvistendahl said. “It wasn’t coercive.”
You would think that as women became more scarce, that they would be considered more valuable. But it seems, disturbingly, just to have led to a huge market for imported brides. “Parents in rich countries produce boys, and parents in poor countries sell their daughters,” explained Hvistendahl. “That was a very sad thing I didn’t expect to find.”
The Time article ends with some rather dubious speculation about the kind of world that a majority-male population could produce (similar to the Wild West? That seems unlikely). But the tragedy of sex-selective abortion is clear throughout the piece, as well as the challenges inherent in ending it. After all, it’s hard to advocate against sex-selective abortion without opening the door to attacks on reproductive choice more generally. And even though countries like India have tried to legislate against the practice, it just gets more and more common.
It’s obvious that this is an issue that will be hard to solve, especially since it’s so widespread. But for the sake of the disappearing girls, and also for women’s rights more generally, it’s crucial that we begin to look at the issue honestly, and search for practical solutions.
Read more about sex-selective abortion:
Missing in India – Six Million Females
Photo from Capitan Giona's Flickr photostream.