Girls gone missing

October 29, 2007 | By Editor | Reply More

The global impact of this sex ratio scenario will impact families. With fewer women, there will be a squeeze on marriages. There will be increased migration of unmarried men and women; there will be increased trafficking of women, gender-based violence and demand for commercial sex. Many men, particularly the poorest will not be able to marry, increasing the potential for social unrest. Photography: Md. Shahidul IslamHyderabad, India (Oct 29): A four-country UNFPA study released today at the 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights in Hyderabad warns that sex selection and son preference in the Asian region will “affect the stability of the marriage system”.The global impact of this sex ratio scenario will impact families. With fewer women, there will be a squeeze on marriages. There will be increased migration of unmarried men and women; there will be increased trafficking of women, gender-based violence and demand for commercial sex. Many men, particularly the poorest will not be able to marry, increasing the potential for social unrest.

French demographer Christophe Guilmoto, author of the regional report based on studies conducted in China, India, Nepal and Vietnam, pointed out that today Asia has 2.1 billion men and 1.9 billion women or a sex ratio of 105 men to 100 women. He indicated that 163 million women were missing in Asia, had the region the same sex ratio as the rest of the world (97).

There are significantly more boys to girls at birth in regional clusters such as Northwest India, East and Central China, Vietnam and South Korea. In India, the Sikh community and in China, the Han community has been identified as being at the forefront of sex selection and gender discrimination. Sex selection is significantly higher among the urban and better off Indians, while in China it is higher among the rural population.

In southern Nepal, it was found that most people knew they could access ultrasound clinics and abortion providers in neighbouring India providing illegal services.

“Vietnam is in the same situation now as China was 10 years ago,” the country’s study concludes, predicting the sex ratio balance there could be seriously affected within a decade.

The authors also reviewed the most promising approaches being taken to reduce son preference and prenatal sex selection, which is legally prohibited in all the four countries studied.

Though the Union Health Minister Ambumani Ramadoss could not attend the conference, a statement from him read out at the inaugural declared that India had made progress on health related issues under the National Rural Health Mission. The budget for health, he said, had been increased. However, heads of international organizations like UNFPA and the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) identified gaps in India’s programme. Most countries in the region including India, it was pointed out, are unlikely to reach the Millenium Development Goals of population and development set for 2015, such as reduction in maternal mortality ratio by 75 per cent.

Increasing gender based violence, skewed sex ratios, unacceptably high maternal mortality rates and spread of the HIV infection among adolescents and women were some of the areas identified for immediate remedial action by governments of the region.

Purnima Mane, deputy executive director, UNFPA said, “While India was one of the first countries to put into place laws safeguarding rights of women and even unborn girl children, these laws now need to be put into practice on the ground where often traditions are stronger than laws.” She said a focal area of effort should now be in raising men’s awareness and making men key partners in improving reproductive health and advancing gender equality.

This was seconded by Dr Baige Zhao, Vice-minister, National Population and Family Planning Commission, China who said there was a need to now focus efforts on the male involvement in reproductive health care. Speaking about the Chinese experience at the plenary session today on `Implementing sexual and Reproductive Rights: An Unfinished Agenda,’ she said that while progress had been made towards promotion of reproductive and sexual rights and needs, regional variations within and between countries remained and much needed to be done in promoting the human rights of Asian people. This was especially so in responding to emerging challenges within the rapidly changing context of today’s world.

Dr Zhao said that the gender dimension was critical in sexual reproductive health and rights. These were not women’s issues’ but concerned the whole society. Studies had shown that access to family planning changed women’s lives giving them more options and opportunities.

It was also pointed out at the conference that young people of the Asia Pacific region comprised 70 per cent of the world’s youth and innovative partnerships are required between governments, civil society and international organizations to generate the political will to provide affordable and accessible reproductive health services to them. That would be the real impact of the conference. As Dr Gill Greer, Director General of IPPF said, “We will all take home an open letter to our governments and people from this conference urging them to show political will and realize the promise of ICPD.”

There is a wide-ranging representation of Parliamentarians from across the region. Member of Parliament in India, Sandeep Dixit, who is also a member of the South Asia reproductive and sexual health task force, said he wanted to bring young parliamentarians, including women, together to learn more about reproductive and sexual rights.

The minister of state for Women and Child Development, Renuka Chowdhry, contended that sex education was necessary to ensure that youth were aware of their bodies and their reproductive and sexual health needs and rights. Awareness of the health services available would go a long way in achieving the goals to have planned families and reducing maternal mortality. While responding to queries, Chowdhury supported the individual’s right to their own sexual preferences. However, she hastened to add that this was her personal view. An important theme of the conference is recognizing sexual diversity and the rights of those with different sexual orientations.

Dr Lyn Freedman, director, Averting Maternal Death and Disability programme (AMDD) USA, referred to the unfinished agenda as a `broken zipper problem’. She said that just like a zipper created a problem when it broke from the middle, the gaps between policy and implementation and the inability to scale up good programmes, the gaps between the rich and poor to access of health services continued to create inequalities and barriers in proving rights based health services.

There were four main reasons why the RSH agenda remained unfinished according to Dr Khawar Mumtaz, coordinator, Women’s resource centre Pakistan. Analysing the impediments, she said unless countries involved women and used the power of information and knowledge to bring down maternal mortality, which was as high as 37 per cent in the South Asian countries, accept the existence of marital rape, alternate sexuality, domestic violence and unsafe abortions, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would never be achieved.

However, merely trying to achieve these goals would not be enough. According to Dr Rashidah Shuib, professor, Women’s Development Research centre, Malaysia, it is critical to see human rights as essential if the highest attainable standards of sexual and reproductive health as envisioned in the ICPD in 1994 and reaffirmed in Beijing in 1995 was to be achieved.

The three-day conference with 1300 delegates from 42 countries of the region concludes on October 31, with the baton being handed over to China to host the next APCRSH in 2009. The conference brought together participants from countries as diverse as Tonga, Samoa, Afghanistan and Iran. While some sported flowers in their hair and wore sarongs, there were others with headscarves. All of them brought a whiff of their own culture while sharing their country’s reproductive health concerns.

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Category: Rural Women, South Asia

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