China's Gender Gap Spells a Lonely Life for Many of Its Men

$4 Ultrasounds and $15 Abortions Prop Up 1-Child Policy

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BEIJING, JUNE 29, 2002 (Zenit.org).- China's one-child-per-family population policy is throwing its society more and more out of balance. A Page 1 story in USA Today on June 19 called the results of the policy "a demographic nightmare that threatens China's stability and endangers prospects for greater political freedom in the country with the world's largest population."



In the next two decades as many as 40 million young Chinese men won't be able to marry, settle down and start families because of the lack of prospective wives, the article said.

The latest census, in 2000, says that 116.9 Chinese boys were born for every 100 girls. This compares with a ratio of 111.3 to 100 in 1990. In the rest of the world a ratio of 105-107 boys for every 100 girls is considered normal. The United States saw 104.8 boys for every 100 girls.

The traditional Chinese preference for boys feeds the problem. So too does the one-child-per-family rule, enforced by measures such as compelling women to have abortions and fining couples who had a second child.

Many couples also resort to ultrasound machines to identify the sex of the unborn child so they can then abort the girls. And that practice is growing, the New York Times reported June 21. Though the government has tried to outlaw the use of prenatal scans for detecting the sex of unborn children, the procedure is still readily available at countless small-town hospitals and at a growing number of for-profit maternity clinics, the Times found.

The situation varies widely throughout China. The imbalance is negligible in some of the poorest areas, including Tibet and the largely Muslim western region of Xinjiang, where ethnic minorities are subject to less stringent birth limits. The 2000 census found the biggest imbalances in two of the more prosperous southeastern provinces, Hainan and Guangdong, with newborn ratios of more than 130 males to 100 females. In some parts of Guangdong, that level reached 144 males for every 100 girls, the Times said, quoting the New China News Agency.

At private clinics in eastern Guangdong, scans are available for $4, and the abortion of an unwanted female can be arranged the same day for $15 to $120, villagers say.

Consequences due to the sex imbalance are being felt already. A flourishing slave trade in female children exists despite attempts to stamp it out, the London Sunday Telegraph reported June 23. An estimated 50,000 girls and young women, some as young as 8, have been sold or abducted into human slavery in China, the newspaper calculated.

Criminal gangs sell young women as servile wives for as little as £300 ($456) -- half the annual average wage. Many of these women are traded at markets and sold to owners who physically and sexually abuse them. Some women come to the markets voluntarily, but many have been kidnapped or bought from their families.

The Telegraph's investigation concentrated on the western province of Sichuan. One of those interviewed was Zhu Wenguang, a police volunteer who is trying to trace those kidnapped and sold as slaves. During the last seven years he has rescued more than 100 girls and women.

"The men who buy these women are desperate for a wife," he said. "They are often twice the age of the women that they buy."

Staying the course

In the recent past conflicting reports have been published on whether the one-child policy might be relaxed. But at the beginning of this year the National People's Congress, China's legislative body, confirmed the policy, BBC reported Jan. 9.

Legislation approved by the Congress stipulates that urban couples should generally have only one child. Zhang Weiqing, director of the State Family Planning Commission, told the press that as the country's population continued to grow by an average of 10 million annually, the law would be maintained as a long-term basic national policy.

An added controversy is that the new legislation explicitly states that spouses are equally responsible for family planning. This, warned sociologist Zhou Xiaozheng of the Renmin University of China, means that the law is stepping into an area that many consider a private matter between spouses. Decisions on whether to have a child should be governed by ethics, rather than by law, he said. "How this problem can be best solved is through consultation between man and wife, where mutual respect reigns supreme," Zhou told the China Daily.

A vivid example of abuses brought about by the one-child limit was highlighted in a report Aug. 5 by the London Telegraph. Provincial authorities in Guangdong ordered the impoverished mountainous region of Huaiji to conduct 20,000 abortions and sterilizations before year-end, after family-planning chiefs discovered that the one-child policy was routinely flouted.

The edict came after census officials found out that the average family in Huaiji has five or more children. According to the Telegraph, many of the abortions will have to be conducted forcibly on peasant women to meet the quota.

As part of the campaign, county officials are buying expensive ultrasound equipment that can be carried to remote villages by car. By detecting which women are pregnant, the machines will allow government doctors to order abortions on the spot. At the Huaiji county hospital, doctors had been ordered to sterilize women as soon as they gave birth after officially approved pregnancies.

UNFPA to the defense

China's family-planning policy has also come up in the context of the continuing debate between the U.S. House, the Senate and President George W. Bush over whether the United States should resume funding the U.N. Population Fund. Those opposing U.S. funding have cited, among other reasons, U.N. support for unjust population control in China.

UNFPA insists that there are no abuse problems in China, as Republican Representative Chris Smith, vice chairman of the House International Relations Committee, explained in a Washington Times article Dec. 19. At that time UNFPA had just written a report absolving China of any family planning abuses, explained Smith.

But, Smith stated, UNFPA "has funded, provided crucial technical support and, most importantly, provided cover for massive crimes of forced abortion and involuntary sterilization" in China.

Debate continues over U.S. funding of UNFPA. For millions of Chinese boys who want to marry someday, however, the solution to family-planning abuses in their homeland may already be too late.