By Prakash Khadka
Since Nepal legalized abortion in 2002 there has been an epidemic of gender-based abortions. At least 50,000 abortions a year are performed after parents find out their unborn child is a girl.
Gender identification of fetuses is illegal but many clinics do not follow the 11th amendment to the country’s civil code that details how abortions can be performed. In Section 28C, the code prohibits the termination of a pregnancy for the sole purpose of sex-selection with a maximum punishment of two years in prison.
However, the law is flouted so much that there was a marked decrease in the female birth rate. A study in 2013 by British researchers Melanie Dawn Frost and her team found there were 742 girls per 1,000 boys in 2007-2010, down from 1,021 girls per 1,000 boys in 1998-2000.
For married couples the preference for a male child is the main motivation because traditionally, girls leave the family when they are married to serve their in-laws. They are also an economic burden due to the dowry system. Few people question the misogyny that underlies these cultural beliefs.
The desire for boys is higher in urban areas. The Nepal demographic health survey in 2011 found that the number of gender-based abortions in towns was twice as high as in rural areas. The practice may be higher in educated and wealthy families given that the proportion of pregnancies ending in abortion rises with household wealth, from 3 percent in the poorest households to 18 percent in the wealthiest.
Indeed, I remember an incident when the Nepal medical council suspended a reputed gynaecologist for three months on the charge of sex-selective abortion in Patan city in 2015.
The normal cost of an abortion is around US$10-15 but depending upon the period of gestation and other factors, the cost can be cranked up to US$150 or more.
It has become a lucrative revenue stream for many private hospitals and clinics even though some carry out the procedure without a license, which makes many abortions both illegal and unsafe.
Half of induced abortions are estimated to be unsafe. It’s a worldwide problem. According to the World Health Organization about 22 million unsafe abortions occur every year resulting in the deaths of 47,000 women and maiming an additional 5 million internationally.
Back in Nepal, the Ministry of Health and Population reported that at least 90,000 women received comprehensive abortion care in 776 government recognized clinics in 2013-2014.
In early 2017, My Republica reported that, out thousands of women who access abortions in Kathmandu, 30 percent are teenagers. What effect will this have on their ability to give birth later in life? Especially if the abortions are performed by unlicensed medical staff.
Often, women are forced to terminate. Sex-selective abortion is sometimes the result of families pressurizing the woman to have a boy. It is a sad irony that what was originally framed as a woman’s right to choose has become the right of the patriarchal society to choose between a girl or boy.
Deep-rooted shame and stigma is a further issue faced by women who access terminations even leading to divorce. How long until we realize that women are not a birthing machines?
Some might say that safe abortions are a skillful medical intervention to terminate the pregnancy. But abortion itself is an unsafe and, if you are killing someone, how can it be safe?
The fact that it is female foetuses that are terminated shows that discrimination against women starts even while they are still in the womb. Worse still, it is an act where the women herself takes part in discrimination against her own kind.
Due to the use of contraceptives and the provision of abortion there has been a decline in fertility from 4.6 births per woman in 1996 to 2.6 birth per women in 2011. The population growth rate has been controlled from 2.25 percent in 2001 to 1.35 percent in 2011.
Reducing the population was part of the goal when Nepal legalized abortion and allowed international family planning services to operate but unfortunately the number of boys are starting to outnumber girls creating an imbalanced society.
The 2011 census found that males outnumber females up to the age of 14 but the number of females is higher in age groups of 15 and above. This is surely not what legislators had in mind.
International family planning agencies are well-funded and highly active. After all, limiting the number of family members can be helpful for poorer families who must manage from hand to mouth.
The reproductive rights argument is raised in favor of women or couples who want to space their children apart but what about the rights of unborn? Are they not human?
They are not just blob of tissue! A human is a human and inalienable rights remain whether they are born or unborn.