Home / Azerbaijan / Sex-selective abortion: the reasons and consequences. Background and the Problem

Sex-selective abortion: the reasons and consequences. Background and the Problem

“Eighteen goddess-like daughters are not equal to one son with a hump” – An ancient Chinese proverb.

Abortion is the intended termination of a pregnancy; it may be chosen by a pregnant woman or forced to do it by others. First medical text about abortion techniques belongs to China about 2727 BCE[1]. According to Petchesky, almost one in five pregnancies were aborted in USA in 1860. Nearly 50% pregnancies in USA occur unintented and 40 % of them end with abortion.[2] Some intentional termination of pregnancy occurs based on the preference for sex of the child (most often a son), also known as sex-selective abortion. Sex-selective abortion is the termination of pregnancy because of the sex of the fetus. The selective abortion of a female fetus is common and prevalent in regions where value of male children is higher than female children, primarily in India, Pakistan, China, the Caucasus, and Southeast Europe.

United Nations Population Fund gives data about the birth rate of males and females. According to the data, relative ratio of males is 106 compared to the female which is 100. This data suggested by UNPF was applicable for the South Caucasus until 1991. However, the changes in the birth rate because of the sex-selective abortion changed in the South Caucasus after the demise of Soviet Empire. After the independence in 1991 Azerbaijan began to develop itself technologically and socially and in economy terms. New highly developed technologies were bought for the purpose of help to health care system. Technological development was one of the reasons of increase in the number of sex-selective abortion in Azerbaijan after 1991. Although, there is not any statistics provided by Ministry of Public Health of Azerbaijan about the sex-selective abortion, it’s possible to achieve some data about the SSA because of the demographic changes in Azerbaijan toward increase in the number of males.

Results of sex-selective abortion may be more serious and visible in long term than today. The consequences may not visible for now, but if we look at foreign experience (India and China) we can see the urgency of SSA. According to United Nations report on 8 march, 2007, 200 million women and girls were demographically missing[3]. The half of that number came from India and China. The rising number of men and decreasing number of women in Azerbaijan will not meet sexual needs and it will lead to increase human trafficking of women and prostitution level.

Literature review

Cook R., Dickens B. and Fathalla M. discuss the different aspects of sex-selective abortion in their “Reproductive health and human rights” book (2006). They mention that, son preference is deeply seated in many cultures related to under-estimating the worth of the girl child. It has been wide-spread to abort female fetus after the utilization of new medical technologies for sex defining. Ultrasound, amniocentesis, and chorionic are made for this purpose. China, India and Korea have the most striking figures while analyzing sex-selective abortion.

The medical ethical, legal and human rights aspects of sex-selective abortion are discussed in different literature. From medical aspect prenatal test developed to find abnormalities in the pregnancy which is valuable information about genetic anomaly, but it is misused to know the gender of feotus. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) Committee for Ethical Aspects of Human Reproduction and Women’s Health manifest that to make SSA is social injustice. The most of committee members agree that “no fetus should be sacrificed because of its sex alone”[4]. However there are much literature that argues about ethical issues of sex-selective abortion. The Ethics Committee of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine maintains that couples should be free to select their child’s sex [5]. Supporters of abortion argue that only persons have a right to life and human organism are not person before birth. Therefore human organisms do not have a right to life before birth. [6] Jaggar Alison questions the moral and metaphysical status of fetuses: “Do zygotes, embryos, and fetuses moral value? If so, in what does their value consist?…” [7]

In terms of legal aspects, the author of “Reproductive health and human rights” argue that to know the gender of fetus is justifiable only women want to know her fetus is healthy or unhealthy. Some countries have prohibiting laws on performance of the foetal sex test unless the diagnosis is for disorder of fetus.

According to “Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions” by Morgan P., Lawton C., Buddhists believe that taking life is morally harmful and those who abort a child make negative karma. The Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand abortion is illegal except to save mother’s life. Abortion is arguable issue in Christianity. Absolutists accept abortion as totally wrong, however Liberal believes that the decision should be taken by the person who is most affected by pregnancy. The abortion issue especially sex-selective abortion is very sensitive in Islam. The Koran prohibited a pre-Islamic custom about killing and burying girls alive, putting death undesired daughters soon after the birth for fear of poverty and hunger.

Research Aims and Goals

Proposed research is intended to analyze the reasons for the sex-selective abortion in Azerbaijan and also to learn the social-moral acceptance of sex-selective abortion by the society of Azerbaijan.

Research Questions and Hypothesis

The following research questions will be answered in the paper:

  1. What are the reasons of increasing number of sex-selective abortion in favor to boys in Azerbaijan?
  2. Is sex-selective abortion ethically-morally acceptable by society of Azerbaijan?

Hypothesis 1. Boys are preferred to girls for abortion during the pregnancy as sons are guarantee of family honor and they will take care of parents in the future.


My study aims to explain why sons are preferred to daughters in Azerbaijan and what reasons make women abort their daughters? Independent variable is the reasons for SSA as they are cause of dependent variable. In this paper reasons are that, son is successor and will keep the name of family, and son will sustain his parents during senility. Dependent variable is increasing number of sex-selective abortion that is visible from the statistics of gender ratio in Azerbaijan despite the lack of statistics on abortion.


I have measured sex-selective abortion by asking questions to the gynecologists about the number of patients who applied to the doctor for the sex-selective abortion. Questions were “What is the monthly number of patients who aborted their child for not being pregnant to girl?”. Furthermore, I have used statistics of State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan on population size of gender and statistical reports United Nations Population Fund on sex ratio of population. Statistical data proved that the number of women per man is decreasing compared to the number of men per woman.

Methods and Data Collection

In my research of sex-selective abortion and the reasons that lead to it I used various research methodology.

Firstly, I did content analyzes. In this stage, I reviewed literature and searched the legislature about abortion to find out the legal aspects of abortion; circumstances and conditions in which government allows/does not allow to make an abortion in Azerbaijan. Law on “The protection of reproductive health and family planning” many times is discussed at Parliament from 2008. However still it is not accepted. In this law, sex-selective abortion issues are also mentioned, and it is planned to punish doctors who do abort based on gender. Abortion is mentioned only in the 141st article of “Criminal code” and law on “Protection of the health of people” of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The name of article in Criminal Code is “Illegal abortion” and includes the illegal conditions of abortion such as to abort in some places instead of hospitals, by the persons who are not doctors; and fines for doing this.   According to the artcile 30, “The artificial termination of pregnancy” in law on “Protection of the health of people” every woman has a right to make any decision related to maternity. The artificial termination of pregnancy can be done till 12th week, in case of some social factors it can be done by 22nd week. If there are medical directions and at the same time women agree to abort, it can be done any time without restrictions.

Secondly, I conducted interviews with doctors who do abortion and women who abort children based on gender to find out why women abort their girls and what are the differences between termination of male and female fetus; whether they accept it as an ethical and moral issue or not; why boys are preferable to girls. To be more precise, I conducted interviews with Qadirova T.(Baku), Mamedova Q. (Sabirabad), Aliyeva N. (Khacmaz), Huseynova Kh. (Barda) – gynecologists, and asked them how many women came to abort girls, the ratio, tendency and differences on causes of abortion between female and male fetus. I especially chose my interviewers from different regions to be representative. They could not provide me with the exact number of abortion for some reasons: 1) it is business secret of hospitals and 2) the number changes every month. But they surely say that the abortion ratio between girls and boys is significantly greater in favor of girls. Qadirova T. says that when patient knows that they are expecting daughter some times they even risk with their health and force doctor to do an abortion. According to doctors, women do not differentiate child’s sex if they are above 35 years or they experienced 2-3 times unsuccessful pregnancy. In terms of reasons for abortion of boys and girls, doctors say that, patients abort child even after 12nd week if they expect girl, however they keep son most cases, even they have financial difficulties or the continuation of pregnancy may harm their health. According to my interviews with the doctors who work I regions, the situation even worse in regions. Husbands want to have a son to help him in his works and force women to abort girls if they do not have a son yet.

I interviewed women who abort girls many times. Quliyeva R. says that she has four girls, and neither she nor her husband wants one more girl anymore; that is why she abort female fetus many times. She lives in the village and mentions that we want boy, because my daughters will marry and leave the house, if we have a son he will take care of us and stay with us, and he also helps us on our daily work.

Then I used online survey method in a form of questionnaire among 21-38 aged married and single women in order to get more information about their perceptions, reasons for abortion of female and male fetus. Despite fact that girls are aborted mostly and boys are preferred to girls in reality, 84,62 % of respondents mention that there is no difference between having a daughter or son. They related their opinions to Islam, God rules and said that child was a gift of God, important thing is children’s health. The analyze of the questions: “After how many girls do you abort one more girl?” and “What can make you to abort your girls?” shows that women are tend to stop their pregnancy for girls if they have two daughters or enough number of children that they wished. However, their answers to the question about the reasons for abortion of son shows that they are not willing to get rid of one more child even if they have enough number of children. Boys are preferred in Azerbaijan for the reasons: he will continue the family name, having a son is prestigious and sons are guarantee for parents in old ages with 49,33%, 41,33% and 25,33% respectively.

At the end of the survey, I put a question to measure social acceptability of sex-selective abortion by Azerbaijani society. Most of the respondents think that SSA is not morally and ethically acceptable with the following percentages: strongly disagree 76.92%; disagree 15.38%; neutral 5.13%; agree 0%; strongly agree 2.56%.

Overall analyze of my interviews and survey results prove my hypothesis that boys are preferred to girls for the followong reasons:

  1. Son will continue the surname of
  2. To have a son is prestigoius.


Due to lack of statistics of abortion in Azerbaijan there are some weaknesses in this research paper. I could find exact number of aborted girls and boys and my assumptions are based on statistics of female and male ratio from 1990 and the number doctors said to me about abortion. Another limitation is that my survey correspondents are only internet users, most of elder aged women and women who live in the regions do not have an access to internet, so most of Azerbaijani women were not able to respond my questionnaire. These obstacles may negatively affect the validity of my research.


The results of this research demonstrated that the sex-selective abortion is widely accepted in Azerbaijan. Sons in the family are more preferred than daughters because people perceive their sons as a guarantee of future, because they are supposed to work and take care of their parents in future. Another reason that motivates people to use sex-selective abortion is that sons are thought to continue the surname of the family. Moreover, according to the results of abovementioned interviews and survey, people prefer to have more sons than daughters because it raises their societal status, i.e. to have sons is more prestigious. However my survey demonstrated that SSA is unethical and immoral issue for the most of women.





Azərbaycan Respublikası “Cinayət Məcəlləsi”

Azərbaycan Respublikası “Əhalinin sağlamlığı haqqında” qanun. 2011

Cook R. Dickens B. and Fathalla M. (2003). Reproductive Health and Human Rights, Integrating medicine, ethics and law.

Hohmann, S. A., Lefèvre, C. A., & Garenne, M. L. (2014). A framework for analyzing sex-selective abortion: the example of changing sex ratios in Southern Caucasus. International journal of women’s health6, 889.

Hovhannisyan P. Haqverdi A. (2011) “South Caucasus: Selective Abortion Means Fewer Girls Born”. September 30, 2011.

Ministry of Public Health of Azerbaijan Republic. Statistical report on population size.

Morgan P. and Lawton A.C. (2007). Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions. Oxford University Press.

Sedghi H. (2007). Women and Politics in Iran, Veiling, Unveiling and Reveiling. Cambridge University Press.

Tooley M. Wolf-Devine C. Devine P. Jaggar A. (2009) Abortion, Three Perspectives. Oxford University Press.

United Nations Population Fund (2013). Statistical report on population size of countries.​

[1] Tooley, B. 2009. P 132

[2] http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-Unintended-Pregnancy-US.html (last visited: 05.12.2014)

[3] http://www.newsrecord.co/answering-for-indias-missing-girls-sex-selective-abortion-in-india/ (last visited 19.12.2014)

[4] Tooley, M., Devine, C., Devine, P., Jaggar, A. Abortion: three perspectives. 2009

[5] American Fertility Society Ethics Committee, “Ethical Considerations of Assisted Reproduction Technologies” (1994)

[6] Tooley, M., Devine, C., Devine, P., Jaggar, A. Abortion: three perspectives. 2009

[7] Tooley, M., Devine, C., Devine, P., Jaggar, A. Abortion: three perspectives. 2009


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