WEB EXCLUSIVE: Killing Its Unborn Will Haunt China

14_Women in China

By Richard Walker

In coming decades, China will face a major social crisis because it will have fewer women due to the killing of tens of millions of unborn female babies. As a result, fifty million Chinese men will have no chance of ever having a partner or being married.

Some experts predict other effects will include girls being forced into marriage at a young age, the kidnapping of females from surrounding nations and the need to permit openly gay relationships in a fast expanding gay population. There will also be very high rates of prostitution and organized crime will flourish by trafficking in women.

All of this can be attributed to the bizarre and frequently changing birth policies promoted by the Chinese, especially after 1949 when Mao Zedong seized power. Then the population was 500 million but Mao believed China could swamp its enemies through a massive population spurt. He insisted Chinese couples should have as many children as possible. Within twenty years, he realized he had made a mistake because China had 800 million people it could not feed. Mao’s solution was for each family to have one child and that became law under his successor in 1980.

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While that strategy somewhat slowed China’s birth rate, it created a dangerous trend, whereby tens of millions of families decided they preferred male babies and aborted female fetuses, or allowed female babies to die through neglect. The desire for boy babies under the one-family-one-child law accelerated a trend, which has since swept Asia and has had a damaging impact in India too.

Chinese couples saw the birth selection of boys as their best economic option. Boys would be future wage earners, who would care for their grandparents and parents when they retired. It was sometimes referred to as the 4:2:1 principle, meaning four grandparents and two parents would be the responsibility of one male wage earner. Girls were seen as a liability, who could never earn enough money because of gender discrimination. The birth of a girl also meant her parents had to save to pay a dowry when she eventually married. Simply put, having a girl was a financial liability.

China is now trying to reverse gender selection but it is probably too late to avert a social cataclysm in the years ahead. Essentially, the damage has already been done. Technology made it easier for couples to learn if their unborn babies were male or female and led to an increase in the aborting of unborn females. Now, with the emergence of gene science, gender choices will likely become commonplace with male births the primary choice for most couples.

Like it or not, China is between a rock and a hard place. If it lets couples have more than one child so they can have a boy and a girl, there will be four hundred million more Chinese within a decade. Yet, by keeping the one-child law in place, male births will continue to soar and with them social unrest in areas where there will be far fewer women than needed for a properly functioning society.

AFP Bookstore recommends UNNATURAL SELECTION: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequence of a World Full of Men to gain a fuller understanding of this issue.

Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.