Sex Selection: Not only Asia’s Problem, Says Council of Europe

Posted by Doug Pet September 15, 2011
Biopolitical Times

The global buzz around sex selection got louder this week when a special committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) weighed in. The committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men approved a draft resolution acknowledging pre-natal sex selection as a growing global problem of "worrying proportions," which "finds its roots in a culture of inequality and reinforces a climate of violence against women."

The resolution is based on a report by Committee rapporteur Doris Stump (Switzerland), which highlights the troubling and under-recognized impact of sex selection in Europe. Though sex selection is typically seen as an Asian problem, drastic imbalances in sex-ratio at birth have already been observed in Albania, Armenia, and Azerbaijan (112 boys per 100 girls), as well as Georgia (111 boys per 100 girls).

The draft cites broad social consequences of the practice, which occurs both in the context of medically assisted reproduction (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) and sex-selective abortion of female fetuses.

Population imbalances, which are likely to create difficulties for men to find spouses, lead to serious human rights violations such as forced prostitution, trafficking for the purposes of marriage or sexual exploitation, and contribute to a rise in criminality and social unrest.

(These and other consequences are chronicled in chilling detail in Mara Hvistendahl's recent book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.)

The draft resolution makes several recommendations to European member countries with an urgent emphasis on those where effects are already visible. The Committee advises member states to closely monitor sex ratios at birth, promote research on causes and social impacts of sex selection, and support education and awareness campaigns for the public and for medical professionals.

More controversially, it instructs countries to discourage prenatal sex selection by "recommending public hospitals to instruct doctors to withhold information about the sex of the foetus," and/or introducing legislation "with a view to prohibiting sex selection in the context of assisted reproduction technologies and legal abortion." (Recommendations include caveats for allowing fetal sex determination when it is necessary to prevent sex-linked hereditary diseases.) Media coverage has reported angry reactions by some parents who've been denied information about fetal sex by various clinics and hospitals that have enacted such policies.

Thus far, the draft has been approved at the Committee level and its adoption will be discussed at the PACE plenary session in October. If adopted, the recommendations will be sent to the Committee of Ministers, which will decide whether or not to designate a committee to initiate action on the issue. Recommendations put forth by the Council of Europe are not binding but do have considerable influence on the policies enacted by national governments of its 47 member states.

The foresighted efforts of the Council of Europe recognize that the far-reaching impacts of sex selection on the global community will require broad-based, multi-lateral solutions. Their initiative to address the sex selection problem head on, framing it in terms of women's health, gender equality, and the common good of humanity, is surely a step in the right direction.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: