The practice has become so ruthlessly routine in many contemporary societies that it has impacted their very population structures, warping the balance between male and female births and consequently skewing the sex ratios for the rising generation toward a biologically unnatural excess of males. This still-growing international predilection for sex-selective abortion is by now evident in the demographic contours of dozens of countries around the globe — and it is sufficiently severe that it has come to alter the overall sex ratio at birth of the entire planet, resulting in millions upon millions of new “missing baby girls” each year.
The social implications of this are disturbing. There are, for example, lots of people who’ve been inspired to affirm the value of women – to affirm value of women as commodities, that is. Many poor girls are forced into arranged marriages or prostitution. It’s hardly surprising. After all, if there are millions of people who think women aren’t worth bearing there’s likely to be millions more who don’t they’re worth much once they’re alive. Meanwhile, there are millions of blokes who are beginning to find it more difficult to locate partners, and they could get a bit frustrated if it carries on.
Eberstatd doesn’t think the crisis will be solved by policy. The phenomenon is pronounced in countries with both harsh and liberal stances on reproductive freedom, and attempts by the state to curb such practices have failed. He mentions, however, that there’s an exception to the trend – that one country has stabilised its birth ratios. That country, he writes, is South Korea. He proposes that…
South Korea’s SRB reversal was influenced less by government policy than by civil society: more specifically, by the spontaneous and largely uncoordinated congealing of a mass movement for honoring, protecting, and prizing daughters. In effect, this movement — drawing largely but by no means exclusively on the faith-based community — sparked a national conversation of conscience about the practice of female feticide. This conversation was instrumental in stigmatizing the practice, not altogether unlike the way in which nationwide conversations of conscience helped to stigmatize international slave-trading in other countries in earlier times. The best hope today in the global war against baby girls may be to carry this conversation of conscience to other lands.
A “nationwide conversation of conscience”? I hear you. It sounds nauseating. I mean, sometimes it’s hard to say “thank you” to whoever’s working behind a checkout, let alone start nattering with the entire population. And, yet, sometimes things that make us queasy have to be endured for the greater good. (Dental flossing, for example.) If there’s any truth to Eberstatd’s claim it’s actually quite inspiring. The abolition of slavery – though, yes, a question that demanded a greater shift in attitudes – followed decades of debate. What with the grave problems facing our society – the need to reduce our energy consumption, say – such conversations are, in lieu of dangerous authoritarianism, a necessity. And, of course, they can’t just take place on Guardian comment pages.