Volume 378, Issue 9793, Page 742, 27 August 2011
Sex imbalance in China
The Chinese political icon Mao Zedong once said “women hold up half the sky”. China is now faced with a serious threat of the sky crashing down. According to the 2010 Chinese census, the sex ratio at birth has climbed during the past three decades to an alarming 118 boys born for every 100 girls, the highest sex imbalance in the world. Without human intervention, the sex ratio at birth is projected to be between 103 and 107 boys born for every 100 girls. In China, only Tibet and Xinjiang have a balanced sex ratio for people younger than 20 years. A distorted sex ratio will result in many social problems. For instance, by 2020 an estimated 30 million Chinese men will be unable to find brides.
The beginning of this disturbing trend coincided with the introduction of the one-child policy in the early 1980s, and ultrasound technology, which made reliable sex-selective abortion possible. To tackle the issue, the Chinese Government this month launched an 8-month national campaign against the non-medical use of prenatal sex determination and sex-selective abortion. Any health professional or medical institution involved in these practices will be liable to punishment including revoking of medical licences, banning of illegal clinics, and even criminal charges.
However, this campaign is not the first to address prenatal sex determination and sex-selective abortion in China. Similar national movements happened in 1986, 1989, 1993, 2002, and 2006. So why have illegal practices continued despite repeated prohibition? One reason is that the business of testing and sex-selective abortion is very lucrative. China Central Television reported that blood and ultrasound tests for prenatal sex determination cost about RMB 5500 (US$873), and RMB 3500 ($556), respectively. Additional underlying factors are a deeply rooted cultural preference for sons, a falling fertility rate, and the one-child policy. With the strengthening of public policy to crack down on sex-selective abortion, China should also implement more effective measures to promote gender equity and empower women in the long term.
August 17 2011
Strict campaign to rectify sex imbalance
By Shan Juan (China Daily)
BEIJING - As China's population becomes more dominated by males, authorities have begun a national campaign to crack down on procedures used to determine a fetus' sex for anything other than medical purposes and abortions performed because a fetus is of a certain sex.
The campaign is being undertaken by the National Population and Family Planning Commission, the Ministry of Health, the State Food and Drug Administration, the Ministry of Public Security and other government agencies. It will last until March 2012 on the mainland, Li Bin, minister of the family planning commission, said at a national teleconference on Tuesday.
The campaign will give the public a sense of the importance of having a balance between the numbers of males and females in the population. It will also severely punish those who help to determine the sex of a fetus for something other than a medical purpose or to perform sex-selective abortions, and will ensure that more is done to monitor for those acts.
"Illegal fetal sex testing and sex-selective abortions are the direct causes of the long-term problem of a serious skewing in the sex ratio in the mainland, which arises from a deeply rooted tradition that favors boys," she said.
"If the trend in the ratio imbalance continues without something to intervene, it will put at risk the equality of the sexes, the development of girls, the lawful interests and rights of women and the nation's long-term development."
Liu Qian, vice-minister of health, pledged to make sure health institutions are better supervised, warning that "those caught taking part in such practices will be seriously punished or may even face criminal charges".
Doctors who violate the ban will be stripped of their licenses or otherwise punished and medical institutions found to be taking part in the practices will be subject to harsh punishments, Liu said.
In 2010, China's sex ratio among newborn babies on the mainland was 118.08 males for every 100 females, the greatest disparity found in the world.
That came after a year in which the ratio had stood at 119.45 and marked the first decrease in the ratio to occur since 2006, when the Ministry of Health began to formally prohibit hospitals throughout the mainland from testing the sexes of fetuses and performing sex-selective abortions for anything other than medical needs.
Despite the slight improvement, Li said the sex ratio, particularly among babies on the mainland, is still concerning.
In other countries, between 103 and 107 males are usually born for every 100 females, according to Yuan Xin, a professor in the Tianjin-based Nankai University's population and development institute.
He said the campaign will not make things right on its own.
"It mainly targets the measures that lead to a sex ratio imbalance, which is also associated with culture, tradition and socioeconomic factors," he said.
He said it will take a long time to rectify the imbalance, which first appeared on the mainland in the early 1980s.
In 1982, China recorded for the first time an imbalance in the sex ratio among newborns in the country. It became worse during the 1990s and peaked in 2004, when 121 males were born for every 100 females, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.
As a result, China was home in 2010 to about 30 million more males under the age of 30 than females in the same group.
"They will have a hard time finding a wife," Yuan said.
Xinhua contributed to this story.