07/18/2014, 00.00
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Chinese couples flock to Bangkok to choose unborn child’s sex: a multi-million dollar business

Thailand is the only country in Asia where IVF treatment offers this possibility. And at a much lower cost than in the United States and South Africa. A turnover of over 150 million dollars and a 20% increase in demand per year. Catholic sources tell AsiaNews they hope the Church will speak out clearly on this matter.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - Every year hundreds of women from China, Hong Kong and Australia arrive in Bangkok, to undergo a particular type of IVF - In Vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfer - which allows them choose the sex of their unborn child.

The expectant mothers have the opportunity to discard ova or embryos of the undesired sex; and, as always happens, these are mostly women (and couples) who want to have sons. One example among many is that of a 26 year old woman, originally from Hong Kong, who arrived in the Thai capital with her husband to try for a second child, male. To be sure of the sex, the couple paid at least 9 thousand dollars: "For the Chinese tradition - he said - having two children, a girl and a boy is perfection." He adds that "there is nothing wrong with daughters," but because of tradition and custom "in Hong Kong and China families want boys."

Church sources in Bangkok confirm to AsiaNews that the practice is widespread and "for three or four years now, you can see billboards on the streets, along with ads on TV and newspapers". It is a growing phenomenon, the sources continue, that "generates a remarkable turnover".

The Thai Church "has never taken a position on the matter," they add, "and there are even in-depth discussions on the matter. This business involves the more affluent in society, while civil society thinks 'live and let live ', without posing any problems or ethical issues". "This is why - said the source - the Church needs to make its voice clearly and loudly heard, because it is an issue that touches the deepest meaning of life".

Moreover Thailand is the only country in Asia where this particular technique of assisted procreation is still permitted, along with the United States and South Africa although in these two countries the cost is much higher. In Bangkok, dozens of clinics, of varying professional competence, gives future parents this type of "service", so as to "balance" the gender ratio within families.

However, increasingly critical, if not hostile voices towards this growing phenomenon are emerging; the National Association of Thai doctors, an independent body that monitors the quality of the health system, points out that this practice "could encourage the trafficking of embryos." But efforts to eradicate, or at least stem, the phenomenon are proving vane due to a number of factors, first of all, the lack of clear legislation in the matter. Despite years of efforts, there have been no concrete steps to put an end to the legal vacuum and the matter has never been listed among the priorities of the national policy makers, given the serious crisis that ended in a military coup.

In traditional IVF, the eggs are extracted from a woman, fertilized and then placed back inside the womb for nine months of pregnancy; with sex selection, they are implanted - as is the case in the vast majority of cases - only those that will lead to the birth of a boy. The practice has been criticized by mediacl orders and ethical organizations around the world, but continues to attract potential "clients" from all over the continent for a turnover of more than $ 150 million a year. And the demand continues to grow, with an increase on an annual basis of approximately 20% and, consequently, a proliferation of centers (more or less recognized) to meet the need.

The Asian nation state is thus increasingly becoming the preferred destination for Chinese couples who do not want to leave the sex of the unborn child to chance; and who are willing to pay sums up to 30 thousand dollars for a package of treatments that can last up to three weeks, to achieve the desired result. An agent arrives in Hong Kong to sell up to 200 packages per year in China, but the business is also meeting with growing interest and attention in Australia.


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