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China’s gender imbalance back in the headlines

The gender imbalance issue was brought to light when Lian Fang, a political advisor in Shandong Province, alerted authorities to the use of illegal ultrasound machines being used by pregnant women in the province. Fang said that doctors in rural parts of the province have been keeping the machines hidden in villager’s back rooms.

Lian gave his testimony on Tuesday at Shandong province’s legislature and provincial political advisory body. He went on to explain that once the sex of the unborn child was ascertained, and it turned out to be a girl-child, this usually ended in an abortion. Preferences for a boy over a girl is not uncommon in China, especially in rural areas where feudal values are still strongly inculcated into the mindset of farming families.

Lian told the assembly that while the sex ratio was 116:100 overall in 2013 in Shandong, the fourth consecutive year to show a decrease, it was still too high. The provincial governor, Guo Shuqing, said that in some parts of Shandong province, the ratio of males to females had exceeded 120:100.

Local officials are working to seek a solution to the problem, and it’s included in their 2015 government work report. But it will be difficult to change a long-standing belief that has existed in China for centuries. And Shandong’s problem is just a small part of an even larger national problem.

China’s one-child policy
During the time Mao Zedong was the leader in China, people were encouraged to have many children because it was believed that population growth empowered the country. The population increased from 540 million in 1949 to 940 million in 1976. As the population was spiraling, starting in 1970, people were then encouraged to marry late and only have two children.

By 1978, China was beginning to take notice of global views on over-population, and sent a delegation of top government officials to Europe to learn more about population growth and its effects on the economy of a country. One delegate, Song Jian, was much impressed with what he learned, and brought back to China a formula he had worked out that would determine the “correct” population for the country.

Song’s plan would take China to the desired level of population by 2080 if it was followed. Despite criticism from many party members, the plan was adopted in 1979. Enforcement of the policy proved to be sporadic, and often non-existent, despite what the rest of the world may have believed.

By 2007, only 35.9 percent of the population was subject to the one-child policy. Half the population was allowed to have a second child if the first one was a girl or disabled. Tibet was not given any restrictions. By 2011, it was estimated the policy had prevented over 400 million births.

Gender disparity is still a huge problem
China’s National Bureau of Statistics shows that at the end of 2014, There were 33.76 million more males than females on the mainland. This comes to a sex ratio of 115.99:100, still too high for government officials, and when compared to international standards, this ratio makes China one of the world’s most imbalanced countries.

According to Lian, who is also a gynecologist, the issue of sex ratio imbalance has created a number of problems, including marriage difficulties, human trafficking, and the increase of public sexual assaults of women. There is also the problem of age differences in spouses, leading oftentimes to infertility issues and genetic defects.

Gao Liping, a demographics expert with the Shandong Academy of Social Sciences, blames the extent of technology today in contributing to the unbalance among the sexes. “B ultrasound and DNA detection these days have provided the possibility of determining fetal sex, which directly contributes to China’s sex imbalance,” Gao said.

In China, abortions are not illegal. In 1989, it was illegal to use ultrasound to determine the sex of a child except when determining hereditary diseases. Yet despite the law put into effect by the Chinese Ministry of Health, ultrasound techniques are available to anyone in all parts of China. And when it comes to the “son preference” of many rural people, sex-selective abortions are being done.

Last week, the National Health and Family Planning Commission issued a statement addressing the international agencies overseas advertising on the Internet. These agencies send people to collect a woman’s blood sample and will determine the baby’s sex for a fee. The commission’s statement said they would “crack down on online advertisements for overseas fetal sex determination and ban search engines from linking to websites containing such ads. Illegal agencies on this “underground industrial chain” will be severely punished.”

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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