The lost girls – Georgians facing an ethical and moral dilemma

20 Feb 2014

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By Tamar Khurtsia,20 Feb 2014 Tbilisi,Georgia

Choosing a boy over a girl and terminating female fetuses has become a new form of gender discrimination throughout the world, including Georgia. This moral and ethical issue was highlighted 25 years ago when Indian-born economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen warned about the selective abortion of female fetuses. In Georgia, this is a real issue where about 1,000 female fetuses are terminated each year.

A pink blouse or a blue shirt

Terminating unborn babies solely because they are female is being practiced in Georgia. This has affected the natural 50:50 ratio of boys to girls, and has also caused gender discrimination, latest Census data has revealed.

Figures outlining birth rates showed in 2012, 1,150 unborn female babies were terminated in Georgia. In the same year, 29801 boys were born and 28382 girls were born.

The usual ratio is 105 boys to 100 girls, which keeps the population balanced as boys are more likely to die in childhood.

The issue was not "catastrophic” but was still "alarming”, said Deputy Minister of Labour, Health and Social Affairs Mariam Jashi.

"This shows a significant shortfall in the proportion of girls but it’s not catastrophic. We do recognize this problem and would like to facilitate the regulations as well as a public awareness campaign on alternative tools of family planning,” Jashi said.

Industry insiders believed this was not a debate about the rights and wrongs of abortion, but an issue of violence against women before they were born.

Putting equal emphasis on male and female babies has to happen and gender equality must be supported. This was a recommendation by the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Georgia Country Office Lela Bakradze, which promotes the right of people, particularly women.

"When women have an equal accessibility to the same resources in Georgia including finances, economic, labour and social - then families will have no special requirement to have a boy,” Bakradze said.

"This is also a problem of mentality and attitudes. Parents believe a boy is the main contributor to the family, as well as their well-being in their old ages. Unfortunately, selective abortion has become the tool for achieving these goals,” Bakradze added.

Terminating a pregnancy because the fetus wasn’t the desired gender was considered to be a cultural, moral, ethical, religious and social issue.

Ban vs public awareness

Census results have reignited debate whether pregnant women should not be told the sex of their babies until the fetus is 12 weeks old. Until this time, abortions are allowed under the local law.

Gynecologist and Ultrasound Scan Diagnosis at Tbilisi-based medical centre I.Zhordania Institute of Human Reproduction Khatuna Avaliani believed restricting this might not resolve the issue an could give the hint to criminal abortions.

Between 2005 and 2010 the abortion rate dropped significantly 3.1 to 1.6 abortions per woman, a 48% decline. Source: UNFPA; Getty Images.

"Restrictions to not identify the sex of the fetus will not solve the issue. There will always be a doctor who will tell them secretly and nobody can control it,” Avaliani said.

"In my doctoral practice, I have had only two cases when patients have demanded me to identify the sex of the fetus. I denied in both times but I am certainly sure that they went to other doctors and terminated the pregnancy just because they were carrying girls.”

Abortions based solely on gender are illegal in Georgia and in many other countries. Despite this, the practice is still widespread. In parts of India and China there are now as many as 120-140 boys for every 100 girls despite a ban on sex-selective abortion.

Improving technology allows earlier detection of fetus’ sex. But doctors believed before the pregnancy has reached 12 weeks, the sex organs of the fetus are not clearly visible on ultrasound scans and doctors cannot predict the child’s gender with accuracy.

"Before 12 weeks it is nearly impossible to say the sex of the fetus of more than 99 per cent. I know of a patient who had two girls and had three abortions before as she was not sure the foetus was a boy,” said Eka Chikhashvili, the Obstetrics Gynecologist at I.Zhordania Institute of Human Reproduction.

To avoid unwanted pregnancies, Chikhashvili cited increasing awareness and accessibility of reproductive health.

Eka Chikhashvili, the Obstetrics Gynecologist at

I.Zhordania Institute of Human Reproduction. Photo by Nino Alavidze.

Officials believed there was no detailed analysis of the exact causes of why parents decided to terminate certain pregnancies and the factors that contributed to the selective abortion in Georgia, so it was very difficult to determine the concrete recommendations or even the figures to debate about.

In this regard, UNFPA in collaboration with the World Bank will conduct quality research to identify the motivation behind gender selective abortions and find out the reasons why families favour boys, and if this reason has changed over time.

Furthermore, the comprehensive analysis will generate awareness for the parent on the circumstances of what kind of demographic and the social effects selective abortions could have.

The report will be issued by the end of spring, 2014. It will also give recommendations about what kind of policies could be implemented to solve this problem.

Deputy Minister of Labour, Health and Social Affairs Mariam Jashi said the Ministry was waiting for the analysis and would base its regulations and recommendations on the report. When the report is presented, the findings will be issued by the Government.

"We will continue work to update and create national standards in compliance to the latest evidence and compliance to international standards. Raising public.

Doctor tries to find out whether it's a boy or a girl. Photo by Nino Alavidze.

awareness as well as medical professionals about the risks associated with abortions,” Jashi said.

"Modern technologies including reproductive health tools are only being used by one third of women. Unfortunately, abortion is one of the major instruments in family planning in Georgia. And this is definitely the high consumed method,” Jashi said.

Choosing a baby

Couples who spoke to said being blessed with a baby opened up a new era in every couples’ lives, and would never undergo gender selective abortion.

"I have heard many times that couples are ashamed when they have girls rather than boys. It is a cultural belief that boys are superior and of more value to the family but not for us,” said Nika, 29, who was waiting with his pregnant wife for a doctor in a long queue at the clinic.

Aborting females was a village mentality, said another pregnant women named Nino, aged 33.

Nino, 26, took a peek inside the womb by Ultrasound Scan to see how her 36 weeks baby develops from month to month. Photo by Nino Alavidze.

"I had a relative who had a third daughter and I had found that some felt sorry for [the mother]. They did not congratulate her on having a healthy child but tried to commiserate with her because it was not a boy,” Nino said.

Another woman, Katie, who is pregnant with her second child said some pregnant women keep the pregnancy a secret when they felt pressure from family members to have a male child.

"I had not a baby for five years and in a time with so many illnesses, who could say that he or she prefers a boy to a girl. I am thankful for either a son or a daughter,” she said.

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