Selektivni abortus / tuđa večera (Montenegro)

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Selektivni abortus / tuđa večera 🇲🇰
Montenegro map.png
Location: Montenegro
Definition: : Son preference, expressed in the deliberate termination of pregnancy with a female foetus; and in the pejorative referring to female inferior social position within a patrilocal residence system
Keywords: Montenegro Balkans Yugoslavia Europe Kinship Gender Son preference Sex-selective abortion Reproduction Family Patriarchy Patrilineality Patrilocality
Clusters: Lock-in effect Kinship lock-in INFORM
Author: Diāna Kiščenko
Affiliation: Department of Communication Studies, Rīga Stradiņš University, Latvia

By Diāna Kiščenko, Department of Communication Studies, Rīga Stradiņš University, Latvia

In Montenegro, selektivni abortus (ʻselective abortionʼ) involves the deliberate, sex-based termination of pregnancy, most usually an abortion of a female foetus. One of the main causes for choosing a sex-selective abortion in Montenegro (and other countries) is a traditional preference for sons, now facilitated by access to medical technologies.

Historically, women in Montenegro were expected to give birth to a son in order to secure the continuation of the husband’s family lineage. To ensure a male heir, sometimes women gave birth several times (Milich 1995). Medical technologies such as ultrasound, amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling and cell free foetal DNA test allow parents to determine the sex of the foetus in early pregnancy and make decisions for termination based on this information.

Social campaign ‘Neželjena’ (2017) raised awareness about the abuse of prenatal testing and sex-selective abortion in Montenegro. Source: Marko Jusic. © Centar za ženska prava.

In Montenegro, abortion is legal and there are no restrictions regarding termination during the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Sex-selective abortion is forbidden (Ministarstvo zdravlja 2009: 2), however, no official record of sex-selective abortion exists. The 2009 law created grey areas, making proving and disproving personal motivation for abortion difficult (Ministarstvo zdravlja 2009). The number of sex-selective abortions performed in the country is speculative. A method of monitoring sex-selective abortions, accepted worldwide, is to compare statistical data on newborns to the standard biological ratio of 104-106 newborn boys to 100 newborn girls (UNFPA 2012: 9). When the number of male newborns exceeds 106, there is reason to suspect human intervention, i.e. that female foetuses were aborted. In Montenegro, the number of newborn boys was 109.8 (UNFPA 2012: 20).

Son preference tends to be linked to patriarchal, patrilineal and patrilocal characteristics of society (Patel 2007: 293). Montenegro’s traditional social and kinship systems were male-centred: men had a central power and resources in society; family name and assets were inherited by male lineage; sons were expected to live close to father and take care of aging parents. Being a woman in Montenegro meant getting married, moving away from your family, moving with and taking care of your husband’s household, serving your new family, and giving birth to children (Denich 1974). Historically, women’s position in Montenegro was characterized with a pejorative expression ‘ćerka je tuđa večera’ (ʻthe daughter serves dinner to strangersʼ) to suggest that once a daughter got married, she served the husband’s family – who were strangers to her, and she a stranger to them (Milich 1995). The underlying idea is that having a daughter is a worthless investment as she will sooner or later leave her natal family and benefit her husband’s family, not her own. A son, on the other hand, is seen as valuable asset as he will provide care and help, continue the family’s lineage, and maintain the family’s property. Even though attempts have been made to reduce these patriarchal patterns during the socialist period, they were not overcome, only suppressed (Petrović 2014). Nowadays, these customary norms and perceptions merge with modern technology to result in a practice of sex-selective abortions.

The preference for boys had numerous implications. There is a shortage of women in Montenegrin rural areas as rural women migrate to cities and abroad for education and work, and men stay to manage property. Relationships and marriages with women from neighbouring countries are growing, especially between Montenegrins and Albanians. In 2017 the Montenegrin news portal ‘Vijesti’ broke a story about men in the northern part of the country, who paid a broker for brides from neighbouring Albania. The transactions turned unsuccessful when the men were swindled of their money (2,500-10,000 EUR each) but could not report the case to the police (Skorupan 2017).

While the current shortage of marriageable women in rural areas relates largely to rural-urban migration, in the future it will likely be exacerbated by biomedical technologies. Condemning son preference, prenatal testing and sex-selective abortion, a non-governmental women’s rights organization Centar za ženska prava together with McCann advertising company in 2017 launched a social campaign Neželjena (‘unwanted’, see image), driven by the idea of unwanted daughters in Montenegro. The campaign petitioned to improve the law that would prevent abuse of prenatal testing for selective abortion (Centar za ženska prava 2017).

Practices of termination of female foetuses are also widespread in East and South Asia (China, India, the Republic of Korea and Vietnam) and Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia) (UNFPA 2012: 2). India has one of the most skewed birth sex ratios (110.5 newborn boys to 100 newborn girls) (UNFPA 2012: 20). The Indian practice is called kanya bhroon hatya, ‘killing of the female foetus’ (Patel 2007: 343). Sons are preferred because of dowry customs, kinship patterns and women’s subordinate position in society (Patel 2007: 293). The shortage of Asian women eligible for marriage has significant socio-economic effects. In India and China there are risks of kidnapping and trafficking women with the purpose of marriage or sexual exploitation (UNFPA 2012: 2).

Several approaches are used to study sex-selective abortion and son preference (Eklund 2011: 19). The outcome approach quantifies human behaviour and is conducted by demographers, economists and public health researchers (e.g. Guilmoto 2010). The causal approach tends to embrace the cultural embeddedness of the practice, its social contexts and economic and legal constraints, and is carried out by social anthropologists and sociologists (e.g. Patel 2007, Shi 2017). Studies combining both approaches also exist (e.g. Croll 2000).


Centar za ženska prava. 2017. ‘Neželjena - kampanja protiv prenatalnog odabira pola’,željena,-kampanja-protiv-prenatalnog-odabira-pola/

Croll, E. 2000. Endangered Daughters: Discrimination and Development in Asia. London, New York: Routledge

Denich, B. 1974. ‘Sex and power in the Balkans’, in L. Lamphere and M. Zimbalist Rosaldo (eds.), Women, culture, and society. Stanford: Stanford University Press: 243-262

Eklund, L. 2011. Rethinking Son Preference - Gender, Population Dynamics and Social Change in the People’s Republic of China. PhD Dissertation. Lund University

Guilmoto, C. Z. 2010. ‘Longer-term disruptions to demographic structures in China and India resulting from skewed sex ratios at birth’, Asian Population Studies, 6 (1): 3-25

Milich, Z. 1995. A Stranger’s Supper: An Oral History of Centenarian Women in Montenegro. New York: Twayne Publishers

Ministarstvo zdravlja. 2009. Zakon o uslovima i postupku za prekid trudnoće,će.pdf

Patel, T. (ed.). 2007. Sex-selective abortion in India: gender, society and new reproductive technologies. New Delhi: Sage Publications

Petrović, I. 2014. ‘Promena vrednosnih orijentacija ekonomske elite – patrijarhalnost, autoritarnost, nacionalizam’, in M. Lazić (ed.), Ekonomska elita u Srbiji u periodu konsolidacije kapitalističkog poretka. Beograd: ISIFF, Čigoja štampa: 143–179

Shi, L. 2017. Choosing Daughters: Family Change in Rural China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Skorupan, A. 2017. ‘Bez novca i obećane nevjeste iz Albanije ostalo nekoliko muškaraca sa sjevera’, Vijesti, 12 April,

UNFPA. 2012. Sex Imbalances at birth: Current trends, consequences and policy implications,

Vujačić, V. 1973. ‘Smisao patrijarhalnog porodičnog kontinuuma u Crnoj Gori’, Sociologija i prostor, 40-42: 108-119