Sex-selective abortion is illegal in both Nepal and India, but the practice continues in both countries where sons inherit ancestral property and daughters are not considered worth the investment.
Even if there is no clear preference in the first pregnancy, 44% of women in the CREPHA survey said that they would want a son the second time they are pregnant, and only 28% said they would like a daughter.
Their reasons included persecution and hostility from husbands and in-laws for giving birth to a daughter, lack of control over their body, the economic dependence on their husband’s family, respect for having a son, among others.
The practice is more prevalent in Hindu families, Muslims in Nepal’s Tarai and among the groups practicing dowry. It is less common among Nepal’s indigenous groups, where the preference for boys is less pronounced.
Many pregnant mothers are taken by in-laws to private clinics in the cities or across the border in India seeking ultrasound scans to find out the gender of their babies. Many then abort the baby if it is a girl, risking their health.
Anyone identifying the gender of a baby with an intention of committing sex-selective abortion can face three to six months in jail. Those involved in sex-selective abortion can be served with up to additional 12 months of imprisonment.
But the culprits are often not identified or prosecuted, claims advocate Sonali Regmi, adding that society’s denial of women’s independent identity was the main reason for the abortions. Indeed, it is often not the mother that wants the abortion, but her husband or in-laws.