|Tuesday, 27th September, 2011||
Women are resorting to sex-selective abortion to get rid of babies of the gender they already have, writes Viqué-Ocean Kahinju
After a spectacular wedding, she settled to have children. Her firstborn was a girl. She and her husband were enthralled to welcome their bundle of joy. Then came the second and third-borns and they were all girls and her life began taking a new twist.
“She has no place here if she does not give us a son!” Such were the statements piled on her back by her mother in-law.
The same words are often hurled at women by their husbands and in-laws for not giving birth to boys, especially.
And the desperate search for a child of the missing sex begins.
Trying to choose the sex of one’s baby is an age-old practice. But old customs were centered on the woman because it was assumed they determined the sex of the baby, which is not true scientifically.
And arguably, preference of a boy child over girls is as old as time in many societies. Culture dictates that when a girl gets married, she leaves her home and becomes part of her husband’s family. Therefore, they would rather have a son to uphold the family’s name, even look after the parents in their old age.
“This challenging consequence apparently triggers selective abortion among the women,” Lambert Mugasa, a sociologist says.
Although girls are a symbol for wealth in terms of bride price, lack of sons drives many men nuts.
Sex-selective abortion is a medical attempt to terminate pregnancies of babies of the undesired sex. And as the name suggests, this practice can be done both pre and post–implantation of an embryo, he clarifies.
“Although sex-selective abortion is an undercover practice marketed as family balancing, it is illegal in Uganda. But in most developed countries the act is not as abominable,” says Kamba.
Dr. Kamba says he has met a significant number of women, who have carried out sex-selective abortion out of desperation instigated by pressure from both their in-laws and spouses, he adds.
Others confess, because of competition from their co-wives, who have children of both genders, they have no choice, but to abort until they get a son.
Dr. Kamba says 80% of the women he has interacted with who aborted said they were willing to do whatever it took to have a son lest their marriages crumbled.
However, Dr. Sam Sserunkuuma, a gynaecologist and obstetrician at Cadam Medical Centre in Kampala, cautions that abortion carried out for reasons other than medical ones to either save the pregnant woman or for other underlying medical factors is still illegal in Uganda.
“A woman can only undergo abortion because the fetus developed in a wrong place, say the fallopian tubes. Otherwise abortion is dangerous to a woman,” expounds Sserunkuuma.
Other forms of sex selection
In vitro fertilisation (IVF): can also be used to fertilise the egg and get desired pregnancy results. An unfertilised egg will be removed from the woman, fertilised in a petri dish and then brought to eight cell stage at which point cells are removed.
Using this method, you can raise the odds of having a baby of the gender of your choice to over 94%, says Dr. Tamale Ssali, an obstetrician /gynaecologist at Bukoto Fertility Centre in Kampala.
An IVF procedure costs about sh5m to sh7m just for the first trial.
However, not many couples can afford this or their desired results in the first cycle of IVF has not succeeded. What happens? These people end up trying other forms of sex selection such as sex-selective abortion, which are dangerous to their health, says Sali.
Who determines a baby’s sex?
If Y travels faster than X and fertilises the egg, male embryos are made and if it is the X chromosome, it will be a female embryo. A boy has XY and girl XX chromosomes.
“It is estimated that over 200 million sperm, which are a mixture of X and Y, are ejaculated into the vagina during sexual intercourse and yet only one can penetrate the ovum,” says Dr. Xavier Ruhinda, an gynaecologist in Kampala.
“There is no way for a woman to control which specific sperm meets the egg first,” he adds.
Dangers of sex-selective abortion
However, although the majority of complications take time to develop, they can be severe for days, months or even years, says Dr. Tamale Ssali, an Obstetrician at Bukoto Fertility Centre in Kampala. He gives the complications that come with abortion:
1 Abortion increases the risk of ectopic pregnancies, which are life-threatening and may result in reduced fertility.
2 Abortion is linked to more maternal deaths than childbirth. This is because women who have had abortions face increase their risk of getting cervical cancer.
3 Abortion has a bearing on the victim’s outlook to life. Because usually women abort out of desperation, which could result into personality disorders, such as post-birth neglect and abandonment of children, promiscuity, eating disorders, alcoholism and drugs. Medically, this is itself a reaction to post-abortion trauma or loss of self-esteem.
4. When a mother fails to have children of both sexes, she is bound to feel hopeless. This hopelessness in a mother can cause despondency in her children too. They may feel unwanted. And if they learn their mother is unhappy about giving birth to only boys or girls, they may feel regrets as to why they were born, explains Dr. Chris Rukundo a psychotherapist.