China's Worsening Gender Ratio

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 8/26/2007 10:19:00 AM
For a long time now, China has been trying to push two seemingly contradictory policies at the same time. The first is what is widely referred to as the "one-child policy" designed to restrain population growth. This policy has helped exacerbate demographic imbalances in China as traditional preferences for male children are reinforced. In simple terms, a male child is often preferred if only one is allowed. Moreover, technological advances such as ultrasound to detect the sex of the fetus before birth have resulted in more sex-selective abortions. There is no other possible way of explaining China's lopsided national sex ratio of 119 boys for every 100 girls. This ratio continues to deteriorate despite a second policy to discourage sex-selective abortions through banning ultrasound tests and other measures.

The UN recently warned China that this ratio was very much out of order, though the Chinese leadership is undoubtedly aware of the perils posed by such an imbalance. A dire prognostication that is often mentioned is that there will be too many angry young men unable to find mates, resulting in widespread anti-social behavior and even military adventurism. It may sound far-fetched, but the world has not yet seen imbalances of this magnitude; it's frightening to contemplate what may come. In response, the Chinese are drafting more punitive measures for doctors and parents who use ultrasound and the like. From my point of view, however, unless more gender equality prevails in Chinese society, there is only so much these punitive measures can do. From the BBC:

The Chinese government says it is drafting new laws to tackle the growing gender imbalance caused by the widespread abortion of female foetuses.

The practice is already banned, but new rules are expected to set out specific punishments for parents and doctors.

China's Family Planning Association (CFPC) has revealed the extent of the imbalance - in one city there are eight young boys for every five girls.

Experts fear the phenomenon could have unpredictable social consequences.

Some believe that with millions of men unable to find a wife, there could be risks of increasing anti-social and violent behaviour.

China's one-child policy, and a traditional preference for male heirs, has led many couples to try to ensure that their single offspring is a boy.

Some pay for illegal ultrasound tests to discover the sex of a foetus, and abort it if it is female.

"The root cause is traditional thinking that boys are better than girls, especially in poverty-stricken areas," Song Jiang, a population expert at Beijing's Renmin University, told the Xinhua news agency.

"Those people expect boys to support the family."

On Friday it was revealed that the eastern city of Lianyungang had the most skewed population. Among children under four years old, there are 163.5 boys for every 100 girls.

Ninety-nine cities had gender ratios higher than 125, state-run news agency Xinhua quoted the CFPA as saying in a report.

The UN recommends a gender ratio of no more than 107.

I have also featured a host of recent stories from the China Daily on the matter. You can be certain that this topic is high on the priorities of the Chinese leadership. Whether it can come up with effective policies to lessen this imbalance is another question, for an attitudinal shift of great magnitude is undoubtedly required.