Today, October 11, the United Nations marks the first annual International Day of the Girl Child. The observance was formally adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 19, 2011 as an official day on which to raise awareness of the situation of girls across the globe. The institution of this day is a decidedly positive symbol. Young girls worldwide face a multitude of obstacles, such as poverty and a lack of education, which can prevent them from fulfilling their human potential. Additionally, a plethora of problems face young girls in developing countries as well as in prosperous nations that violate their human rights every day on a massive and frightening scale. A day such as this can call attention to the very real concerns facing girl children throughout the world. With any luck, that attention will bring about much needed action to protect these little girls.
However, with the spotlight being shone briefly on the issues of the girl child, it seems clear that attention should also be paid to one of the most pressing issues facing girl children internationally. The issue is whether or not they will be allowed to exist in order to fulfill their amazing potential as human beings and fight for the right to an education or for a better quality of life for their family. Sex-selective abortion throughout the world is eliminating “millions upon millions” of baby girls each year, according to demographer Nicholas Eberstadt. In Eberstadt’s words, “In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls.”
Primarily occurring in Asia but growing markedly in other regions, such as Eastern Europe, the termination of a pregnancy due to the sex of the child has become common enough to skew the natural sex ratio sharply in many nations, resulting in what Eberstadt calls a “biologically unnatural excess of males.” Most societies value sons over daughters for cultural and economic reasons. The victims of sex-selective abortions are almost universally female.
In China in particular, due to its coercive One-Child policy, there has been, over the course of the past several decades, a dangerous growth in the use of sex-selective abortion to eliminate unwanted baby girls in favor of sons, who are seen to have more value to a family. This has had such an impact on the demographics of China that gender balance in the country is very precariously poised. While a natural sex ratio is between 103-106 boys for every 100 girls born, in China the number stands at 121 boys for every 100 girls.
The journalist Mara Hvistendahl has garnered some attention on the issue with her book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. She points out that this lack of girls has resulted in the increasing commoditization of the girls who are left. They are sold as wives or kidnapped into sex trafficking rings. They may even grow up to have their own daughters forcibly aborted. Sex-selective abortion is the root cause of many of the ills that girls are forced to endure.
It is admirable that the United Nations is calling special attention to the plight of girl children. If the UN truly wants to make a difference for young girls and the societies in which they live, then it should make a major effort to end sex-selective abortion. It should work to protect girls when they are at their most vulnerable and let them be born. Every girl deserves a fighting chance.
Nora Sullivan is a Research Assistant at Charlotte Lozier Institute.