When Gender Gaps: China’s One-Child Policy and the Wholesale Elimination of Little Baby Girls

With far more men than women, China’s sex imbalance has already reached epic proportions. But a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggests that the problem is only going to get worse.

The study, published on April 10th and conducted by researchers Wei Xing Zhu, Li Lu, and Therese Hesketh, confirmed that men outnumbered women for all age groups. They write, “In 2005 males under the age of 20 exceeded females by more than 32 million in China, and more than 1.1 million excess births of boys occurred” (BMJ 2009;338:b1211).

To those of us who follow China, these numbers aren’t really surprising. The one-child policy has been in place now for three long decades. Millions of Chinese couples, desperate for a son to support them in old age, have put their newborn girls to death at birth. Millions more have resorted to sex-selective abortion to snuff out the lives of little girls before birth.

What has raised eyebrows is that the problem seems to be growing. The study, based on the 2005 census, showed that the younger the age group studied, the more boys predominate. The imbalance was highest in the group aged one to four years. In this group, there were an astounding 126 boys for every 100 girls. That is fully five boys for every four girls.

“The highest sex ratios were seen in provinces that allow rural inhabitants a second child if the first is a girl,” the report concludes. Of course, the provinces that allow a second child if the first is a girl are precisely those where son preference is the strongest. This relaxation of the one-child policy in those areas was intended to reduce female infanticide. Instead, it has encouraged families to think that, by selectively aborting any girls they happen to conceive, they can have not just one son, but two. As the report says, “Sex selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess males.”

At one level, it is not hard to see what this means for China’s future. As this tale of marital musical chairs plays out, tens of millions of young men will be left standing, forced into an unnatural state of permanent bachelorhood. Rates of prostitution and homosexuality will increase as these unwilling bachelors seek alternative outlets for their urge to mate. Rates of recruitment for both the People’s Liberation Army and for criminal gangs will increase as these “excess” men seek alternative families. Crime, which is mostly committed by unattached males, will skyrocket.

The article refrains from criticizing the Chinese Communist Party, which is ultimately responsible for the one-child policy. After all, two of the authors are Chinese, and may be subject to reprisals. But the BMJ, in an accompanying editorial, pulls no such punches.

“Although it is well documented that th(e) preference for sons is the cause of the high male to female ratio,” the editorial reads, “the preference itself does not directly lead to this high ratio. A preference for sons can affect the sex ratio only in the presence of widespread access to sex selective technology (for example, ultrasound) and a reduced fertility rate (by choice or by coercion)” (BMJ 2009;338:b483).

In other words, by forcing down the birth rate at the same time that it has made ultrasound technology widely available, the Chinese state is responsible for the selective elimination of baby girls that results. Laws forbidding the use of ultrasounds to determine the sex of the unborn child exist, but are widely ignored.

The growing disparity between the sexes is also an inconvenient truth for Western promoters of abortion-on-demand, who failed to see that in Asia, with its long tradition of son preference, abortion-on-demand would lead directly to a slaughter of innocent unborn girls.

The BMJ editorial goes on to question population control orthodoxy as well, writing that “From the 1970s, before the policy was imposed, China saw an emerging culture of having a small family as a result of social and economic developments. The most dramatic decrease in the fertility rate, from 5.9 to 2.9,occurred between 1970 and 1979. After the one child policy was introduced in 1979, the rate fell more gradually, and since 1995 it has stabilized at around 1.7. It has therefore been suggested that China’s total fertility rate would have decreased even without the one child policy.”

I have long argued that the one-child policy, besides being a gross violation of human rights, was demographically unnecessary. Birth rates in China in the late seventies were already falling fast. Even in the absence of the one-child policy, they would have continued to fall — probably to near present-day levels — as a result of China’s urbanization, industrialization, and rising levels of education. And this would have happened, as the editorial hints, without the tens of millions of forced abortions and sterilizations that the state has imposed.

The obvious solution to the growing imbalance in the sexes is to end the one-child policy. While this would not end the Confucian sexism so rampant in Chinese culture, it would at least remove one of the reasons why the Chinese kill their baby girls in such huge numbers.

To the most committed population controllers and radical feminists, of course, the sacrifice of so many girls doesn’t matter. The Chinese must be drastically reduced in number to “save the planet,” say the population controllers. No voluntary plan would have moved far enough, fast enough, to suit them.

As far as the radical feminists are concerned, whatever angst they feel about the slaughter of so many of their born and unborn “sisters” is canceled out by their prior commitment to an abortion agenda.

Both groups continue to cheer on the Chinese government.

Steven W. Mosher

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Steven W. Mosher is the President of Population Research Institute and an internationally recognized authority on China and population issues, as well as an acclaimed author, speaker. He has worked tirelessly since 1979 to fight coercive population control programs and has helped hundreds of thousands of women and families worldwide over the years.

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