Ar­me­nia raises alarm over abor­tion of girls

Au­thor­i­ties, ac­tivists warn sex-se­lec­tive births skew­ing na­tion’s de­mo­graph­ics

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FEATURES & ANALYSIS - By Mariam Haru­tyukan

YEREVAN: Ani Ki­rakosyan says she is afraid of get­ting preg­nant be­cause if the ul­tra­sound shows the fe­tus is a girl she will have to con­sider hav­ing an abor­tion.

In ex-Soviet Ar­me­nia – where fam­i­lies tra­di­tion­ally pre­fer sons – women are of­ten pres­sured to have sex-se­lec­tive abor­tions to get rid of girl ba­bies.

“Rel­a­tives were con­sol­ing me when I gave birth to my first daugh­ter,” said Ki­rakosyan, a 27-year-old res­i­dent of the cap­i­tal, Yerevan.

“But when my sec­ond daugh­ter was born, my mother-in-law told me that there must be no more girls, that I must fi­nally bear my hus­band a son.”

The ma­jor­ity-Chris­tian Cau­ca­sus coun­try of some 3 mil­lion has the third-high­est rate of abor­tions of fe­male fe­tuses in the world, a fig­ure that rose sharply af­ter the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The United Na­tions Pop­u­la­tion Fund has re­ported that there 114 boys born to 100 girls in 2012. The nat­u­ral norm would be 102-106 male births to 100 fe­male ones.

Sex-dis­crim­i­na­tory abor­tions be­come more preva­lent with sec­ond and sub­se­quent chil­dren, and ac­count for around 1,400 un­born girls each year.

“In 10 to 20 years, we will face a shortage of women and – com­bined with a dra­matic de­cline in fertility rates – that will lead to a se­ri­ous de­mo­graphic cri­sis,” warned Garik Hayrapetyan, UNFPA Ar­me­nia’s as­sis­tant rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

“By 2060, some 100,000 po­ten­tial moth­ers will not have been born in Ar­me­nia. We will be­come a so­ci­ety of sin­gle men.”

Ar­me­nia trails only China, which ended its one-child limit a year ago, and its Cau­ca­sus neigh­bor, ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim Azer­bai­jan, where 53 per­cent of new­born chil­dren were boys in the first quar­ter of 2016, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures.

Some an­a­lysts have linked the shared trend for sex-se­lec­tive abor­tions in Ar­me­nia and Azer­bai­jan to their vi­o­lent ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute since 1994 over the Nagorny Karabakh re­gion, sug­gest­ing it has pro­moted a sense of in­se­cu­rity and a de­sire for male de­fend­ers.

The UNFPA at­trib­uted Ar­me­nia’s sex-dis­crim­i­na­tory abor­tions to “pa­tri­ar­chal struc­tures,” a trend for smaller fam­i­lies as well as easy ac­cess to pre­na­tal scans and abor­tions.

Abor­tion is still the pri­mary means of fam­ily plan­ning in Ar­me­nia, as it was in the Soviet era, and it is avail­able free of charge on the state health ser­vice.

In mid-2016, the Ar­me­nian Par­lia­ment adopted leg­is­la­tion aimed at re­vers­ing the fe­male feti­cide trend.

The new mea­sures in­clude doc­tors com­pul­so­rily ques­tion­ing women on their mo­tives for want­ing an abor­tion and re­fus­ing those driven by gen­der se­lec­tion.

The leg­is­la­tion also bars ter­mi­na­tions af­ter 12 weeks un­less there is a risk to a woman’s health, she was raped or is a sin­gle mother.

But Ar­me­nian women’s rights groups have de­nounced the new le­gal mea­sures, say­ing they will not work in a pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety and will only lead to more il­le­gal and un­safe abor­tions, en­dan­ger­ing women’s health.

“If we for­bid abor­tions, there will be more back­street abor­tions and higher fe­male mor­tal­ity rates,” Anush Poghosyan of the Yere­van­based Women’s Re­source Cen­ter told AFP.

“We have to ad­dress the prob­lem’s ori­gin – that is pa­tri­ar­chal men­tal­ity and wide­spread poverty – and not its con­se­quence,” Poghosyan said.

“If women and men were given equal op­por­tu­ni­ties, if a woman could be as suc­cess­ful as a man, as in­flu­en­tial and as fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent, no par­ent would dis­tin­guish be­tween hav­ing a son or a daugh­ter,” she added.

Hayrapetyan said that re­cent me­dia dis­cus­sion of the prob­lem has en­cour­aged de­bate about the rea­sons be­hind cul­tural norms.

“The para­dox in Ar­me­nian so­ci­ety is that many peo­ple may not want hav­ing a daugh­ter be­fore she is born, but once she is here, a daugh­ter is just as loved and cher­ished as a son,” he said.

Hayrapetyan speaks dur­ing an in­ter­view with AFP in Yerevan.

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