Vietnam, Nepal in trend toward boy preference -UNFPA

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HANOI, Nov 5 (Reuters) Vietnam and Nepal are the latest Asian countries to show a trend toward fewer newborn girls than boys because deeply rooted cultural traditions lead to a misuse of medical technology, a UN agency study found.

Asians, particularly in India and China, have long been known to practice pre-natal son selection by using ultrasound and amniocentesis and then aborting unwanted female foetuses, the United Nations Population Fund said.

''I don't think we are damning the technology and one shouldn't.

But unfortunately the technology is being abused,'' UNFPA deputy executive director Purnima Mane said in an interview on a weekend visit to Vietnam.

Ultrasounds and amniocentesis help doctors detect birth defects and the health and development of a foetus.

Many Vietnamese want to have a son as their first child, part of a tradition to continue family lineage, for ancestor worship and security in old age for parents.

For Vietnam, which has a population of 85 million, ''sex ratio at birth is not a significant problem now but could be within a decade'' the researchers said.

In Nepal, which has a population of about 30 million, researchers said women living near the border with India could go to clinics in India that flout prohibition on sex selection.

''It is not a major concern now; however, it is likely that demand could increase in future,'' said the UNFPA study presented at last week's Asia-Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health in Hyderbad, India.

Mane said that in these predominantly rural societies, an increase in trafficking of women and domestic violence were possible consequences of gender imbalance.

''The entire devaluation of the girl child is much more relevant and the status of girls is much more linked with the fact of trafficking and domestic violence increasing,'' she said.

''We want girls to be valued as much as boys.'' UNFPA said Vietnam, where abortion is legal, was recording about 110 boy births for every 100 girls. The natural ratio of boys to girls is about 105 to 100.

It said in 2005 unbalanced sex ratios in China had risen to 120 males for every 100 females born. According to India's 2001 census, it was 108 males to 100 females.

On paper, Communist Party-ruled Vietnam respects gender equality.

It is written into the constitution and the National Assembly, or parliament, passed a Gender Equality Law last year and is on its way to approving a Domestic Violence Prevention Law by the end of this month.

REUTERS SZ SSC1238

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