In an indictment that mirrors the inferior position of women in Indian society, five United Nations agencies have said in a joint statement on Tuesday that preference for sons in many parts of Asia perpetuates a culture of discrimination and violence against women which should be addressed urgently by all segments of government and society.
“There is huge pressure on women to produce sons…which not only directly affects women’s reproductive decisions, with implications for their health and survival, but also puts women in a position where they must perpetuate the lower status of girls through son preference," said the statement issued jointly by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
"It is also women who have to bear the consequences of giving birth to an unwanted girl child. These consequences can include violence, abandonment, divorce or even death.”
The UN agencies’ statement by the also dwells on the misuse of ultrasound machines to determine the sex of a foetus. “Over decades, the practice has caused a sex-ratio imbalance in many countries particularly in South Asia, East Asia and Central Asia.”
“There is also the possibility of an increase in violence against women resulting from such an imbalance. For instance, the lack of women available for marriage in some areas may lead to the trafficking of women for forced marriages from other regions or the sharing of brides among brothers,” the agencies said.
“States should develop and promote…policies in areas such as inheritance laws, dowries and financial and other social protection in old age...that reflect a commitment to human rights and gender equality,” the statement suggests.
The Republic of Korea is held up as an example of how the preference for sons has largely been overcome through a combination of strategies, including attention to gender equality in laws and policies, advocacy, media campaigns and economic growth.