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John Wayne's Holster: China’s “Missing” Girls
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Monday, March 12, 2007

China’s “Missing” Girls

Last night, I watched a National Geographic documentary called China’s Lost Girls. I must admit, the documentary was pretty moving. Basically, the documentary focuses on the consequences of China’s “one-child policy”.

During the cultural revolution, Chairman Mao encouraged Chinese to have as many children as possible to fuel the social and economic development of Chinese society. As a result, the Chinese population exploded, increasing from about 400 million in 1949 to almost 700 million by the late 70’s. Today, China’s population is 1.3 billion.

In an effort to curb population growth, Deng Xiaoping (Mao’s successor) established the so-called “one-child policy” in 1979. Basically, the policy set a limit on one child per couple in urban areas, and two children in rural or farming areas. Tibet has no limit. Although the policy is Draconian, it has been somewhat effective in curbing population growth. However, it has resulted in a number of unintended, but tragic consequences.

Culturally, male offspring are held in higher esteem in China, as reflected in this ancient Chinese poem from the Shih Ching (Book of Songs):

"When a son is born,
Let him sleep on the bed,
Clothe him with fine clothes,
And give him jade to play...
When a daughter is born,
Let her sleep on the ground,
Wrap her in common wrappings,
And give broken tiles to play..."

The reasons for the male preference are multifaceted. For starters, males are desired in order to carry on the family name. Males also tend to stay at home after marriage, whereas females leave home and move in with their husband’s family. Because males remain at home, they are better able to take care of their parents when they become old or sick. This is particularly important due to the fact that China does not have a well-developed social security system.

The combination of the one-child policy, coupled with the cultural preference for males, has resulted in a great deal of violence and neglect among China’s young girls. Sex-selective abortion of females has become common in China, despite the governments attempts to discourage it. Due to the availablity of cheap and mobile ultrasound scanners, women can (illegally) determine the sex of their child in utero for as little as $50.00, and then have an abortion. Those women unable to get ultrasounds simply wait for their child to be born. If it is an undesired girl, she may be neglected, abandoned or killed.

As a result, the demographics of the Chinese population are now skewed heavily in favor of boys. The normal ratio of boys to girls is about 105 to 100. In China, it is now about 115 to 100. In some rural areas, it is even greater, approaching 150 to 100. Demographers estimate that there are approximately 20 million girls “missing” from the Chinese population.

This imbalance is creating serious social issues that will only become worse as the bulk of China’s children reach adulthood. Many men simply won’t be able to find a mate and start a family. Frustration and violence will follow. In fact, violence against women in China is already increasing. Prostitution is on the rise. Even worse, many men have resorted to kidnapping and human trafficking in order to “obtain” a wife.

China maintains that they are working to solve this demographic problem, but their actions indicate otherwise. Last week, China, as well as India and several other countries, lobbied against a US-sponsored UN resolution that sought to eliminate prenatal sex selection and female infanticide. As a result, the resolution has been withdrawn.


At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Caroline Rodgers said...

It is disturbing that expectant parents use ultrasound for sex selection, resulting in fewer girls born. However, in view of the fact that there may be a link between prenatal ultrasound and autism, the practice of ultrasounding fetuses becomes alarming. I am the author of "Questions about Prenatal Ultrasound and the Alarming Increase in Autism," available at In the article, I make the case that the little-known thermal effects of ultrasound disturb key enzyme reactions, which can result in neurdevelopmental problems. Consider how this would impact China: At last count, there were an estimated 1 million autistic children in that country. Since autism affects boys about four times more often then girls, the consequences for many Chinese parents will be grave: the only child and son who was supposed to take care of them in their old age will, in fact, wind up having life-long special needs.

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yikes! To your post and Caroline's autism comment.

China's day of reckoning is coming. When they do establish a strong and vibrant middle class, there will be no women. They will be importing women from somewhere. Will it be ethical?

On the bright side I read something a while back that said the government would begin subsidizing parents of girls in order to begin reversing this trend.



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