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November 11, The tiny, year-old woman whose hair is already streaked with grey is more than four months pregnant -- beyond the nation's legal abortion limit -- but says she is ready to risk her life to make sure this baby is not born. It is an all too frequent scene in Albania where the Council of Europe, the continent's member state democracy and rights watchdog, warns that sex selective abortions have led to boys outnumbering girls to -- out of sync with the biological standard sex ratio at birth of males to every females.
Sex selective abortions -- and in earlier times infanticide -- have been cited as an indicator for skewed sex ratios in some Asian nations where tradition prefers sons. United Nations figures show China, India and Vietnam have the biggest imbalance, but the Council of Europe warns that the practice has spread to Europe -- and has singled out Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Her husband erupted in fury when he heard another girl was on its way, threatening to chase his wife and daughters from his home.
Albania legalised abortion on the eve of the communist regime's fall in the s. It is allowed until the 12th week of pregnancy. After that, "therapeutic" abortions can only be performed if three different doctors have assessed a case and given the go-ahead. While sex selection as a reason for abortion is expressly forbidden, there are no specific sanctions for breaching the law, local rights groups said.
Since , the availability of foetal sex screening has made it a frequent method for choosing the sex of one's child, according to these sources. And abortions, which cost around euros in a private clinic, are much cheaper than going through an in vitro fertilisation process to sort sperm to ensure a male, which can run into thousands of euros. Last month, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe PACE adopted a resolution stating that prenatal sex selection has reached "worrying proportions" in Albania.
World health agencies warn such imbalances can not only affect marriage and fertility patterns but could cause unrest among young men unable to find partners. The Council called on members Albania, as well as the former communist states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, to investigate the reasons behind what it called their skewed sex ratios and to monitor birth rates to collect reliable date on the issue.