Why the First Photo of a Girl Is Often the Last

In cultures that prefer boys, ultrasound images can lead to sex-selective abortion.
Apr 14, 2016·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Grainy black-and-white ultrasound photos have become ubiquitous on social media, with many expecting parents using them to announce to the world that they’re having a baby. Doctors use ultrasounds to see that a fetus is growing properly, but soon-to-be-parents have their own interest: At the 20-week mark, the procedure can reveal whether they will be having a boy or a girl.

In cultures that prefer boys over girls, those ultrasound images are sometimes used in a more sinister way: If a fetus is female, the parents might decide to abort the pregnancy.

An initiative in Hong Kong is leveraging ultrasound images to raise awareness of sex-selective abortion and inspire the public to rally against the practice.

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The campaign, called “First Photo, Last Photo,” was created by Grey Group Asia Pacific, a Hong Kong–based advertising agency, on behalf of Joy of Life, a local NGO that seeks to curb sex-selective abortions in the region. The title stems from the sad reality that the ultrasound photo is the first image of a fetus that parents see, but if the sex turns out to be female, it could be the last photo of her ever taken.

The clip above features the dramatic sound of a heartbeat as a fetus, seen through an ultrasound machine, moves in a womb. Once it can be seen that the fetus is a girl, the heartbeat stops. The video also features footage of both men and women visiting a companion exhibition of ultrasound images of female fetuses in Hong Kong.

“It’s too shocking to believe,” comments a woman visiting the exhibition. Along with the gallery exhibition, the campaign has also placed the images in magazines and in public spaces across Hong Kong.

The decision to commit female feticide has resulted in roughly 117 million missing women across Asia, according to the United Nations Population Fund. In China, the one-child policy that went into effect in 1979 and began to be phased out last year fueled the desire for boys. China now has the widest gender imbalance in the world, with about 120 boys for every 100 girls born. The country has around 34 million more men then women, leading a well-known professor there to suggest wife-sharing as a solution to the dearth of brides.

Sex-selective abortion is illegal in India, China, and Hong Kong, but as the video points out, plenty of people find their way around the law. “This is happening thousands of times every day. This has got to stop,” says a man in the video.