Selective Abortions, Birth Restrictions Continue to Distort China’s Gender Ratio
April 10, 2009 - 3:36 AMSex-selective abortions linked to China's "one-child" policy along with a traditional preference for boys have resulted in dramatically skewed male-female ratios in the world's most populous country that are likely to persist for decades.
A new study analyzing 2005 census data found that in that year alone, more than 1.1 million more boys than girls were born. In 2005, there were 32 million more males than females under the age of 20.
Researchers in China and Britain recorded a national ratio in the one- to four-year-old age group of 124 boys to 100 girls. In some provinces, the ratio was even more unbalanced, exceeding 140:100.
The international norm is 103-107 boys for every 100 girls.
“Sex selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess males,” said the study, which was published Friday in the British Medical Journal.
Introduced in the late 1970s, China’s birth limitation policy generally restricts couples to having one child. Exceptions are made in certain cases, including one that allows ethnic minorities or couples living in rural areas to have a second child if their firstborn is a girl.
When the researchers examined statistics relating to second births, they found an even higher ratio – 143 boys to 100 girls overall, and higher in some provinces, peaking at 192:100 in Jiangsu, a relatively prosperous coastal province.
The stark figures for second births, in the words of one definitive 2004 report on China’s demographics, reflects “the desperation of couples who didn’t produce a son the first time around.”
Chinese authorities say the population control policy is enforced by means of financial incentives and punitive fines (“social compensation fees”), but evidence of forced abortions and sterilizations carried out at the behest of population control program officials has frequently emerged over the years.
The Bush administration from 2002 withheld funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), citing its work in China, in line with U.S. law that prohibits funding for any agency that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The UNFPA denied that its work in China supported coercive measures. President Obama this year reversed the policy.
The one-child policy is an aggravating factor in a society where boys are traditionally preferred for cultural reasons – they are believed to bring honor to their ancestors – and for practical ones – they are seen as more likely to be able to provide for elderly parents in a country that has a rapidly graying population and few welfare services for retirees.
Demographers have warned that China could face massive social upheaval in the coming years, as growing numbers of young men are unable to find women to marry. Already, the State Department has cited a reported rise in cross-border trafficking of women and girls into China from south-east Asia and elsewhere in recent years.
Concerned about the gender imbalance, Beijing in 2000 launched an awareness campaign aimed at discouraging a preference for boys. According to reports in Chinese media, the “care for girls” drive entailed small loans for families with only daughters to help with schooling and training in income-generating skills, and lectures for grandparents, especially in rural areas, aimed at countering a bias against girls.
In 2002, the government enacted population control legislation that outlawed the use of ultrasound scans to determine gender and so facilitate sex-selective abortions. Statistics suggest the law is widely flouted, however.