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Montenegro’s unwanted girls cannot be saved by restricting freedom of choice

Selective abortion is an issue in Montenegro but legal restrictions and violations of individual choice are not the right answer.
Unwanted

“Unwanted”. That is the name of many baby girls in Montenegro who are never born because of a primitive morality and strong patriarchal structures in this society. In these parts of society, men are considered as superior beings and women as private property and inferior beings. It’s easy to notice that the birth of girls in some circles is considered as God’s punishment and a moment of sadness for a family. To avoid such “shame”, some turn to selective abortion, hoping their next child will be a baby boy, the future carrier of the family name and their pride.

“Unwanted”. That is also a campaign by the Center for Women’s Rights which aims to outlaw selective abortion and abuse of prenatal tests. The campaign was greeted with euphoria and mass support. But supporters forgot one important fact: Legal repression will not change society or solve a problem.

Such prohibition will not only push us deeper into problems but it will create an environment where women will be even more insecure. It starts as a nice awareness-raising campaign. But very soon, on the wings of populism, this campaign will turn into a violation of free choice and a massive brain wash — the with goal of solving every problem by restricting and regulating life choices. We need a different approach to solve such complex issues, which are deeply rooted in society.

Interestingly, the campaign does not offer a deeper analysis of the problem. Also, the data they use is mostly misunderstood or interpreted in manipulative way. One of the interpretations of the data is that there are much more births of male babies than female babies. The statistical office of Montenegro shows, that this is dubious. By their research the difference is small and imperceptible. Just in 2016, 7569 babies were born, of which 50,8% were male and 49,1% female. It’s similar with years before. Again, the statistics of born babies cannot be considered as the main argument even though it could serve as one. If we follow this argument, it is worth noting that the male mortality rate is higher than the female mortality rate. In 2016 the ratio in percent was 52:48 which is a 4% higher mortality rate for male inhabitants.

However, the Institute for Public Health in Montenegro in its strategy for 2020 clearly points that the abortion rate is declining from year to year and that most of abortion cases are related to women between 25 and 35 who do not want to expand their families due to financial or other private reasons.

This does not mean there is no problem with selective abortion. Traditional values and patriarchy which dominated for many centuries are still present in some circles of society. But to overcome such social organization of life and philosophy, the solution is not to limit freedom and choices but to educate people and work with them to break the chains of history and to leave those false values behind.

Another mystery would be how a ban of selective abortion should look like? Is the campaign aiming to forbid only selective abortions on girls or selective abortions on both genders? If so, how is selective abortion different than usual abortion? Those questions raise the important point that this topic is based on a general story and prejudice with no concrete evidence or ideas how to solve the issue.

The Center for Women’s Rights is not only unable to solve the issue with selective abortion by its proposed law but it will also affect the freedom of choice that each woman and young family should have. On the other hand, abuse of prenatal tests is very difficult to prove because it not only detects the points baby gender but also all inherited defects. It allows parents to be aware of all possible outcomes so they can eventually make an informed decision.

We should not ignore the fact that one evident consequence of a legal restriction will be a black market and illegal activities by those who have to choose like that. In that case, women will be forced into uncontrolled and dangerous abortions which would expose them to undesirable risks and even death in some cases. Corruption is also side effect of such restrictions, as now doctors and medicine workers will be motivated to perform prenatal tests beyond the legal framework which will allow them to earn additional money, putting citizens and families in an unfavorable situation.

To avoid such a set of issues, organizations, companies, government and individual activists need to work with citizens and educate them properly, giving them a broad perspective for overcoming obstacles and values that are holding society back. Legal repressions and limiting freedom are not a solution, but a cause for more problems.

Those who raise awareness of particular issues need to stop finding the solution in prohibition and limiting individual freedoms and rights. Instead of putting more burdens on the shoulder of an individual we need to remove them and to let each individual to live freely with the choices he or she will make.

It is important to understand the importance of individual freedoms and the responsibility that comes with it. This is a long and exhausting struggle, but the fruits of its victory are long-term and inspiring for generations that come. Only this way, with individuals fully aware of their freedom and responsibility, we will break the chains of patriarchy and primitive motives. And then, we can expect that unwanted babies will become wanted ones.

Submitted by Slobodan Franeta on 30 November 2017