A Chinese official said Tuesday that the worsening imbalance in the sex-ratio of newborns in China was not a result of the country's 33-year-long family planning policy.
The official admitted that the two are "related" and that the family planning policy has "contributed to the imbalance."
"But that is not to say the policy has led to a rise in the imbalance," Zhang Weiqing, director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, told a press briefing.
Formulated in the early 1970s, China's family planning policy encourages late marriages and late childbearing, and limits most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two.
Wang Guoqiang, vice director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said China's family planning policy is not a "one-child policy".
While couples in large cities and some rural areas have only one child, they account for only 36 percent of the total population, according to Wang.
In 19 rural provinces, couples are allowed to have a second child if the first one is a girl. The families represent 53 percent of the population.
Wang explained that there are different policies for different areas.
Zhang pointed out that other eastern countries -- such as India, the Republic of Korea and Pakistan -- also have unbalanced newborn sex ratios even though they do not have China's type of family planning policy.
The official blamed several factors for the growing imbalance in the ratio, including Chinese people's traditional preference for boys, lower levels of development and an inadequate social security network in rural areas, and the excessive use of ultrasound technology.
China's gender ratio for newborn babies in 2005 was 118 boys for 100 girls, compared with 110:100 in 2000. In some regions, the figure has reached 130 newborn boys for every 100 girls.
In a statement jointly issued by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, the authorities said the increasingly unbalanced sex ratio is "a hidden danger" for society that will "affect social stability."
To solve the problem, Zhang said China will take "comprehensive" measures including promoting rural productivity and improving people's living standards.
Zhang pledged that the government will take strict measures to prevent and punish illegal gender testing of fetuses and abortions which are not for medical purposes.
"China does not use abortion as a birth control method," Zhang said.
Abortion is available to unmarried youngsters but the Chinese government also provides sex education for young people to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies and promote sexual health.
He said the government will also improve the social security system in rural areas so that "elderly people are properly cared for".
A majority of China's rural residents are not covered by the social security system and farmers traditionally rely on their children, especially boys, when they get old.
The government will also take further measures to promote equality between men and women and to improve the social and economic status of girls and women, Zhang said.
In an attempt to halt the growing imbalance, China launched a "care for girls" campaign nationwide in 2000 to promote equality between men and women.
The government has also offered cash incentives to girl-only families in the countryside.
Zhang said solving the sex ratio imbalance will be "very difficult", and China "needs 10 to 15 years to get China's newborn sex ratio back to normal."
He said China will maintain a fertility rate of 1.8. And the family planning policy will not be loosened during the 11th Five-Year Plan Period (2006-2010).
China is in the midst of another baby boom, so it is definitely not the right time to loosen the birth control policy, Zhang said.
China is expected to increase spending on family planning from 10 yuan to 30 yuan (US$3.85) per person by 2010, according to a document jointly issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council.
China's government has pledged to keep the mainland population under 1.36 billion by 2010 and under 1.45 billion by 2020.
(Xinhua News Agency January 23, 2007)