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Early test to detect gender may lead to more aborted girls


Sara Dzregah
WVoN co-editor 

South Korean researchers have discovered a way to determine the sex of a baby in early pregnancy through a simple blood test, according to research published in The FASEB Journal and reported in Eurekalert earlier this month.

“Although more work must be done before such a test is widely available, this paper does show it is possible to predict the sex of a child as early as the first few weeks after conception”, said Gerald Weissman, the journal’s editor-in-chief.

This new technology may cause concern among campaigners against gender-biased sex selection, which mostly targets unborn baby girls.

Currently, the most usual form of sex determination is using ultrasound at around the 14th to 16th week of pregnancy when the development of external genitalia is complete.

This new research suggests that a test, to measure specific enzymes in the mother’s blood, would be a safe and accurate method to determine the sex of the unborn baby.

“Generally, early fetal gender determination has been performed by invasive procedures such as chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis.

“However, these invasive procedures still carry a 1-2 percent risk of miscarriage and cannot be performed until 11 weeks of gestation.”, said Hyun Mee Ryu, a researcher involved in the study at the KwanDong University School of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea.

In countries with a culture of favouring sons, such as China and India, making it easier to determine the sex of a fetus will almost certainly lead to an increase in aborted female babies.

United Nation statistics show that the culture of son preference has led to a sex-ratio imbalance in parts of Asia. In some cases, the ratio is as high as 130 boys for every 100 girls (see WVoN coverage).

Last year, the United Nations (UN) issued a report to highlight this problem and recommended actions to prevent it.

“Sex selection in favour of boys is a symptom of pervasive social, cultural, political and economical injustices against women, and a manifest violation of women’s human rights,” it stated.

Imbalanced sex ratios in early childhood is not a new phenomenon. In the past, infant girls were killed at birth or neglected. Following the wider use of ultrasound, girls have increasingly become de-selected before birth.

According to the UN report, China’s sex ratio at birth was 120 boys per 100 girls at the latest census in 2005. In some parts of Northern India, the ratio is as high as 130 to 100 for children aged 12 months and younger.

The UN recognises that restricting access to sex detection technology is not the solution to the problem. Women will simply be made to bear children until the required number of boys have been born.

“Renewed and concerted efforts are needed by governments and civil society to address the deeply rooted gender discrimination which lies at the heart of sex selection.”, UN experts said.

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