Archive for April, 2010

why don’t you like girls? #caucasus #gendercide

Recently, “The Economist” has published a cover story about gendercide, i.e. the practice of selective abortion in order not to have female children. En passant, “The Economist” mentioned that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are three among the four top countries in the world rankings of countries by sex ratio at birth (male/female). The article mostly focussed on China and India, that are numerically much more important, and didn’t explain why this phenomenon is widespread in the South Caucasus. The motivations behind this practice in China, for example, are to be found in economic and social factors, as well as in the “one child policy”. Apparently, they hardly apply to the countries of the South Caucasus.

Nonetheless, here are the data provided by the CIA World Factbook:

Sex ratio at birth (male/female)
Armenia: 1,14
Azerbaijan: 1,13
Georgia: 1,13

According to these data, the three countries of the South Caucasus are the three countries in the world where this coefficient is highest. (check the ranking compiled on Wikipedia)

Considering that the natural sex ratio at birth is closer to 1,05, these data seem to suggest that in the countries of the South Caucasus selective abortion is practiced in order not to have a female child. This would be particularly surprising given the fact that such a practice is not widespread in any country neighbouring the region.

According to a report published by UNDP in March 2010, “The Demographic Transformation of Post-Socialist Countries”, by Elizabeth Brainerd, in Soviet times the ratio was close to 1,05 (pag. 8), and the reason why “evidence of son preference has emerged so rapidly is surprising and difficult to explain.” Brainerd quotes official statistics by the local governments that do differ from CIA data, but confirm the existence of the problem (sex ratio  for children age 0-4, Armenia 1,145, Azerbaijan 1,168, Georgia 1,104).

France Meslé, Jacques Vallin and Irina Badurashvili have written an interesting chapter in a book published in 2007 (available for download) dedicated to this issue, titled “A sharp increase in sex ratio at birth in the Caucasus. Why? How?”.

They basically confirm this negative trend, but do not find compelling explanations of this phenomenon. Nonetheless, the chapter is an extremely interesting reading that depicts clearly the situation. Graphs show how sex ratio at birth increased steeply after the fall of the Soviet Union, and how it did not change in all other countries of the former Ussr (including Central Asia). It show on maps how this phenomenon is widespread in the different regions of the three countries (and not in neighbouring regions of Russia or Turkey), making clear that this is not limited to the cities or to small villages, but is an issue that involves different territories, and that in some regions this figure is higher than 1,20. Besides, the fact that sex ratio at birth is so much higher for the third born child than with the previous (the figure gets closer to 1,40), it seems clear that there is a conscious attempt to refuse to give birth to a female child, in particular if the first two were already female.

The authors mention previous studies (in Georgian) claiming that the problems acutally lies in poor birth registration data, but this seems hardly convincing.

The authors of this article naturally claim that “as convincing as these indicators may be, we do not have definitive proof that the increase in sex ratio at birth in the countries of the Caucasus is due to the spread of scans and the practice of sex-selective abortion.”

Anywyay, if this hypothesis is confirmed, it would mean that between 10 and 20 percent (and possibly more) of young parents in the southern Caucasus are ready to recur to abortion if they find out that they’re expecting a girl instead of a boy. Or that more generally, parents are much more likely to recur to induced abortion if they’re expecting a girl, especially if previous children were also girls.

This sounds scary, and I would definitely welcome any other sound theory able to explain the data. Besides, this sounds honestly strange and unexpected… Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, however similar in many aspects, are countries that have different traditions and whose citizens follow even different religious faiths. It is all the more strange, considering the fact that no other country of the region has showed a similar trend.

In Europe, this phenomenon is present also in some parts of the Balkans, most notably in Albania and Kosovo (sex ratio around 1,10)…but still, well below the level recorded in the Caucasus.

I am looking forward to find out more about this, so if anyone reading this post has more updated data or sound alternative explanations, please let me know… I’m definitely willing to read and write more about it…
I have been looking for more information about this topic for a few months already, but couldn’t find anything more. I was actually very surprised to find so little about it online… I think this is a very serious problem, and there should probably be more awareness about it.

Looking forward to hear comments and ideas…