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A Shortage of Girls

Traditional views that say men are superior to women still prevail, leading to a gender imbalance in births.

Although equality of men and women is a basic principle in China, there are still couples who practice abortion once they find out their unborn babies are girls. Today, the consequent gender imbalance of these actions has shown up in kindergartens and primary and middle schools across Beijing, and the situation has attracted public attention.

Deng Xiaohong, Deputy Director of Beijing's Bureau of Health, revealed on May 12 that a normal ratio of baby boys to baby girls should be around 104:100-106:100. But last year's ratio reached 108:100, and that of the floating population even went as high as 128:100, indicating that the practice of willful abortion is upsetting the standard ratio.

How can such an issue involving gender discrimination exist in Beijing, a modern city with open-minded citizens? Is there any deep seated reason behind a concept of valuing men over women? How will the gender imbalance influence our future?


According to Peng Peiyun, President of the China Population Association (CPA), the gender imbalance has risen since the 1980s, and is now a problem that requires immediate attention. The ratio of birth by gender was 107.4:100 in 1980. After 10 years of continuous increase, the result of the fourth national census showed that the ratio rushed to 111.3:100. In 2000, statistics from the fifth national census showed the proportion had grown to be 119.9:100.

In 2000, the gender ratio for the first, second, third and fourth babies in families, respectively, were 107.1:100, 151.9:100, 160.3:100 and 161.4:100. The imbalance was not restricted to a few regions, but was present in almost all parts of the country. The census in 2000 announced that the ratio in 24 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities exceeded 110:100. And in eight of these provinces, the ratio was beyond 120:100. The ratio in Hainan and Guangdong provinces even reached 135.6:100 and 130.3:100, respectively. Population in the above-mentioned 24 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities covered 90 percent of the national total. In 1990, there were 12.73 million more boys than girls in the age range of 0-14, while 10 years later, the figure went up to be 18.07 million.


Experts predict that serious gender imbalance can cause complicated social problems. If this imbalance is allowed to proceed unchecked, the following damages may occur:

1) Pressure on marriage. Owing to their excessive number, males will find it difficult to find marriage partners.

2) Adverse impacts on families and society. The gender imbalance is likely to cause more sexual crimes and adversely affect the stability of monogamous families.

3) Difficulties in maintaining the population. With the decrease in the number of women, the country's population reproduction capacity will decline.

4) The surplus of male employees will place more pressure on female employees. In the next 10-20 years, men will find it more difficult to find jobs. Some sectors that females used to have advantages in, such as textiles and service, will hire more males, upping the pressure on female workers.


There are several reasons behind this gender imbalance problem. Peng Peiyun, believed that the traditional idea of rearing sons is the root of the imbalance, especially in rural areas, because the traditional pattern of marriage is that girls will move into boys' family homes after marriage. Meanwhile, a lot of people still regard men superior to women. Nowadays, while not many people want to have more than one child, there is still the belief that only boys can continue the family blood line, resulting in the inherent will to have boy babies.

Equality of men and women has been written into
China's Constitution as a basic principle, and the social position of women is reported to have climbed in recent years. But people still feel that in actual social life on the ground, men and women are not equal, which means having baby boys is still preferred to having baby girls.

In fact, male college graduates find jobs far easier than their female counterparts. As female college graduates have less employment opportunities, people plan the future of their children based on their own experience. Consequently, a baby boy means finding a job easier down the line, and thus parents can rely more on son.

In addition, while the country does have laws prohibiting gender identification through scientific means (unless it is medically required), no laws exist to prevent a girl embryo being aborted once the gender is ascertained. In some places, a pregnant woman can find out the sexuality of her future baby by spending 40 yuan ($4.8) to do an ultrasonic check in a hospital. Yang Kuifu, member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, explained that the country lacks specific deterrents for this problem, especially concerning the legal aspects of it. "Paying a fine is not as frightful as prison to irresponsible doctors," said Yang.


In his keynote speech at the Seminar on Population, Resources and Environment held on March 10 in Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao pointed out that the country should pay great attention to the rising gender proportion, and deal with the problem as a key task.

In May, Beijing Bureau of Health publicized stipulations related to medical examinations of pregnant women. According to the stipulations, only licensed gynecologists with five years of clinical experience are qualified to perform medical checks for pregnant women. Medical institutions engaged in pre-natal examinations must have a complete set of medical instruments and well-equipped laboratory. Any hospital, doctor or medical check that does not meet these requirements will be harshly dealt with. In addition, the bureau has decided to strengthen its supervision and management over the implementation of these stipulations.

Meanwhile, Beijing is working on the Girls' Project, in order to set up a public and social environment fitting for girls' living and development. The city will also establish a proper social guarantee system, by intensifying birth education, abolishing illegal abortions of baby girls and cracking down on trafficking of women and girls.

Liu Lei, Deputy Director of Beijing's Population and Family Planning Commission, said that the municipal authorities plan to set up training schools and a special fund for rural girls this year.

In addition, large-scale educational activities have been launched in the capital city through the media, with the aim of publicizing relevant laws and stipulations, as well as the negative results that may be brought about by gender imbalance.

(Beijing Review July 7, 2004)

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