by Brianna Smith | Disparity in number of male and female babies presents conflict.
The last two decades has seen an increasing gender disparity in China. Couples, limited to only one or two children because of the one-child policy, often choose to abort female fetuses or dispose of female infants in the hopes of getting a male child on the next try. Besides abortions and infanticide, loopholes in the policy aggravate the disparity. For instance, some rural areas will allow a second child to be born, if the first was female. The situation is complex, and China now has a choice between trying to further regulate the reproductive systems of its citizens, or modifying or getting rid of the one-child policy. Although infanticide should always be fought against, a stricter one-child policy cannot succeed in the prevailing social climate in China and, if it is enforced as it is now, will result in a population collapse coupled with an economic crisis. China can no longer support the policy that is promoting such a gender disparity. What is required, as some in the Chinese government have already noted, is a change of attitude, not a stricter law.
The gender imbalance currently stands at 120 boys for every 100 girls, while in the worst affected cities there are 165 boys for every 100 girls. This has been caused by by sex-selective abortions, which China has attempted to prevent by banning doctors from using ultrasound to tell the parents the sex of the child. Unfortunately, the law is not strictly enforced locally. Even where it is, the doctor will often use hand gestures such as a thumbs up to signal a male child, or a thumbs down for a girl. More than a third of abortions are openly performed because of the sex of the child, and of all abortions, 70% are of girls. Even if the child is born, girls have a lower survival rate than boys until they reach five. Female infanticide is not uncommon, and families often won’t supply adequate medical care for their female children. As many Chinese doctors have noted, a family will take a boy to a doctor as soon as he has a cough, and spend as much as is needed; a girl will be brought in late, and be withdrawn if treatment looks too costly.
Yet behind all of this is the one-child policy, which encourages abortions and forces many couples into the idea that if they can only have one child, they must have the “best” one possible, a boy. With a society still fixated on the higher earning potential of men and the need to carry on the family name, not having a son is shameful. It doesn’t help that most wives go to live with their husbands’ family, leaving their aging parents alone and uncared for. Keeping a female child and having another is almost impossible, as the one-child policy is built on heavy fines; a years pay for children born out of wedlock, three years worth for a second child. In addition, those who only have one surviving child get a myriad of financial, medical, and social benefits. With all these weights against females and additional children, it can hardly surprise anyone that the country is facing a gender crisis.
The crisis has sparked other problems, from kidnappings of male children to an increase in prostitution and trafficking in women, often Burmese refugees, bought for a few dollars. Crime has increased, as millions of men, with no chance of finding a wife and family, have turned against a society in which they have no investment. Some so-called ‘bachelor villages’ have staged revolts, prompting the Chinese government to respond with military force. At the same time, the top-heaviness of Chinese society has increased, with more retirees and fewer workers to support them. With less women and thus fewer couples and children, this trend will only increase until the one-child policy is dropped.
While the Chinese government has staged some attempts shape society as opposed to intimidate its citizens, it remains committed to the one child policy. Incentives to support the raising of girls and slogan campaigns telling families that ‘both boys and girls are the hearts of their parents’ have gone hand in hand with announcements that the one-child policy will continue for at least another decade. With the problem worsening despite incentive and propaganda programs even the most optimistic among Chinese society cannot except a new direction for decades. Others expect the crisis to spiral out of control until a population crash forces the Chinese to abandon the one-child policy.
This policy has proven to be counterproductive at best and disastrous at worst. While it may have been necessary to decrease the total population, it was badly implemented, without regard to important sex ratios. Unless the Chinese government can quickly correct their error, they will either have to abandon the one-child policy or see crime rise further, and their population, especially their working population, plummet rather than slowly decline. This is not an attack on Chinese culture or the Chinese government, though the deaths of millions of girls is deplorable. This is simply a review of a policy that isn’t working, or perhaps is working too well. If the one-child policy is not soon changed or abandoned, China could be facing something worse than a simple gender imbalance. It could face a crisis.
Ms. Smith is a freshman who has not yet declared a major.