In traditional patriarchal societies, pressure on couples to produce sons exists - they are vested with the duty to support aging parents and relatives.
“Georgia has a latent son bias, parents tend to have a strong desire for a male heir,” explains Bakradze. “Tradition has it that if after a birth everyone around the house is silent neighbours would ask, “Is it a girl?”
The rough-and-tumble decade of the 1990s put additional pressure on families as they feared that the absence of a son would make them more vulnerable to the political, social and economic shocks that Georgia and by large the South Caucasus republics have experienced since independence.
Christophe Guilmoto, senior fellow in demography at the Paris-based French Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), wrote in the UNFPA study that “selective abortion after the birth of daughters is found to be the main tool for beating the biological odds” as couples “try to respond to the [son] demand without overly increasing the size of the family.”
Guilmoto also noted that a third of the population has a third child only because of the absence of a boy - essentially, couples would continue child-bearing until they have a son.
UNFPA estimates that 25,000 girls have not been born in Georgia between 1990 and 2010 – should the trend remain the same, the number would rise to 80,000 by 2050 leading to severe demographic consequences in the medium-long term.
“In the last 25 years I have met many families ready to terminate their pregnancy because the baby was a girl,” tells Tbilisian archpriest Giorgi Ugrekhelidze who is the father of three girls and the grandfather of two. “In most cases men push their wives to take this decision. But I think the number is decreasing, there is more public debate around the issue and it is really good.”
Alexander Gurchiani, 78, and his wife Svetlana Khaphtani, 73, certainly lived their parental life ahead of the curve. The couple, originally from the secluded mountains of Svaneti, in northern Georgia, proudly raised nine daughters, now between 46 and 30 years of age. Having girls was never an issue. “After so many girls a son would have been a welcome change in pattern, but the most important thing is that your kids all healthy,” they say.