Prerana had to file for divorce when her husband started torturing her for failing to give birth to a son. Under pressure from her husband's family, the mother of two daughters had to undergo 12 abortions in 12 years of her marriage. After being coerced into divorce, she left her well-paying job in Kathmandu and migrated abroad.
When a priest told Bimala's husband that his wife would only bear a son after giving birth to four daughters, he began drugging her as soon as she became pregnant. After she became pregnant for the fourth time, she refused to abort her baby and was beaten till she had to be hospitalised. Now she is seeking legal advice.
Another woman in Jhapa was burnt alive by her husband, and rescued by neighbours, who rushed her to hospital in Dharan. Her father says Jyoti's husband wanted a son and tried to kill her in a fit of rage after she gave birth to a daughter.
Nepali families' increasing obsession with male children and the subsequent rise in sex selective abortion are clear indicators of how deep rooted old patriarchal values are and how far the country is from achieving gender parity. Superstitious beliefs such as only a son can carry forward the family's lineage and perform the last rites of his parents so that they reach heaven have fuelled this epidemic.
Abortion was made legal in Nepal to control population and lessen maternal mortality rate, as well as to address domestic violence against women. According to government statistics, 700,000 cases of abortion were recorded in the last 10 years, out of which 439,074 took place five years since abortion was legalised. However, instead of protecting and empowering women, the service has been widely abused to selectively abort female foetuses.
A study conducted by UNFPA in 2009 revealed that most women are open to having children of either sex, but out of those whose first born is a daughter, 81 per cent said they wanted a son next. It is estimated that more than half of those who wish for sons secretly visit hospitals to determine the sex of their babies. This is when family pressure starts and many mothers who refuse to end their pregnancy are met with violence.
Women's rights activist Sapana Pradhan says it is illegal to determine the sex of the foetus before abortion and terminating pregnancy after 16 weeks is also a criminal act. Ultrasound technicians, doctors and even mothers who are involved in the practice are punishable by law. However, since most abortions take place in private clinics and families and doctors go to great lengths to maintain secrecy, it's very hard for authorities to detect the crime.
Although people assume that female foeticide is more prevalent in rural areas where literacy rate is low and superstitions guide daily life, nothing could be further from the truth. The Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2011 shows that cities register twice as many cases of foeticide than villages. But rural women who abort are far more vulnerable because they don't have access to high-end gynecological facilities like their urban counterparts which means many undergo the procedure at home.
Names have been changed to protect privacy