China Faces Growing Boy/Girl Ratio Imbalance

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - China has announced it will clamp down on sex-selective abortions, in yet another bid to counter the ever-widening gap between the number of boy and girl babies born in the country.

The communist nation's increasingly skewed gender ratio is attributed to Beijing's notorious population control policies, as well as a preference for boys driven by economic factors and traditional culture.

According to the latest statistics cited by the official Xinhua news agency, 119 boys are now born in China for every 100 girls. That figure has risen from a ratio of 117 boys to 200 girls in 2001, and 108:100 in 1982.

The international norm is around 103-107 boys for every 100 girls.

Experts have warned of a crisis in years to come, when millions of Chinese men will be unable to find women to marry.

Last March, President Hu Jintao said rebalancing the gender ratio was one of China's important goals over the next decade.

Xinhua quoted Zhao Baige of the National Population and Family Planning Commission as telling a press conference that any individual or medical organizations offering services to facilitate sex-selective abortions would be held legally responsible.

With ultrasound technology, expectant parents are now able to ascertain their unborn baby's sex and have an abortion if it is an unwanted girl.

The abuse of ultrasound scans to determine gender for this purpose was outlawed in population control legislation that came into effect in 2002.

In many rural and less developed societies, boys are preferred both in the medium and especially in the long-term, when adult sons will be expected to care for elderly parents in the absence of a sound social security system.

But the situation is made significantly worse in China by population control policies that restrict couples to one child each - with exceptions for some ethnic minorities and in some parts of the country. According to Zhao, couples in rural areas whose firstborn is a girl can have a second child.

In areas where ethnic minorities such as Tibetans and Uighurs live, the sex ratio is closer to international norms, Xinhua reported.

The controversial "one child" policy is strongly condemned by Western pro-life organizations. Researchers say over-zealous population control officials in some areas have compelled women to have abortions or be sterilized. Disincentives include large fines, threats of job loss and destruction of property.

The Bush Administration has for three years in a row refused to fund the U.N. Population Fund because it works with Chinese population control programs ( see related story ).

The Chinese government several years ago launched a "Care for Girls" campaign to discourage a preference for boys.

Among other things, the program offers lectures to grandparents to counter bias against girls, according to a recent feature in China Daily.

Families with daughters are given small loans to help them develop ways to contribute to the household income. Schooling for girls is also encouraged, and girls get health examinations to ensure they are being well cared for.

An opinion piece in People's Daily at the weekend called the ratio of boys to girls "dangerously high."

"If this problem is not promptly addressed, over the next two decades China will see a surplus of tens of millions more men than women and an increasingly aging population," it said.

"Though it is almost impossible to predict the exact size and scope of social problems such a disproportion in gender will incur, the fact it is looming justifies immediate efforts to check the trend."

The article praised China's family planning policy, saying it had been "remarkably successful in slowing population growth to a level fitting the country's ambition to establish an overall well-off society."

But, it added, the policy "should be re-evaluated and adapted to the changing conditions of the nation's economic and social development."

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow