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Gender imbalance could undermine stability

2011-08-19 12:23    Ecns.cn     Web Editor: Wang Fan
By 2020, it is likely that 30 million Chinese men at marrying age will have little choice but to live as bachelors.

By 2020, it is likely that 30 million Chinese men at marrying age will have little choice but to live as bachelors.

(Ecns.cn) -- China's gender imbalance is growing. Figures from the country's 2010 census showed that there were 118.08 males for every 100 females last year, up from 116.9 males for every 100 females in 2000.

On August 16, 2011, six government departments, including the National Population and Family Planning Commission, the Ministry of Health, the State Food and Drug Administration, and the Ministry of Public Security, launched a national campaign to crack down on non-medical sex determinations and sex-selective abortions in an attempt to promote balance in the sex ratio. The program, which many believe will do little to address the roots of the problem, lasts until March 2012.

What happened to the girls?

From a relatively normal ratio of 108.5 boys to 100 girls in the early 1980s, the male surplus gradually rose to 111 in 1990, 116 in 2000, and now stands at 118 boys for every 100 girls, according to a Chinese think-tank report.

China's experts have warned of a potential gender crisis for years – a problem greatly influenced by the country's traditional values.

Earlier this month, it was reported in newspapers that healthy, fertile couples from southeast China's Guangdong Province were taking fertility drugs in the hopes of having multiple births to ensure at least one boy.

Since many families limited to one child would rather have a boy than a girl, they sometimes engage in sex-selective abortions – and even female infanticide.

Unexpected effects

According to figures released by the population authority, even though last year China's sex ratio saw its first decrease since 2006 – from 119.45 in 2009 to 118.08 in 2010 – the general uptrend is predicted to continue for the next decade. By 2020, it is likely that 30 million Chinese men at marrying age will have little choice but to live as bachelors.

"Gender balance should be a basic law for natural evolutions, but it is another case in China," said Yuan Xin, a professor with the Population and Development Research Institute of the School of Economics at Tianjin-based Nankai University. "The gender imbalance has already become a chronic social disease in our country. Except for Tibet, the sex ratios in other provincial-level regions are all on the high side."

China's gender gap is now much higher than the demographic norm of 103 to 107 boys per 100 girls which is common in other countries. The United Nations created this norm out of consideration for the higher mortality rate of boys, so that the number of males would match that of females as they reach marrying age.

"We are now entering an era of 'boy surplus girl shortage'," said Zhai Zhenwu, dean of the School of Sociology and Population Studies at Renmin University of China. He predicted that many boys will face difficulties finding brides. "The immediate impact will be the so-called Marriage Squeeze and Marriage Gradient," he said, adding that May-December romances will become more common in China, and there will be more urban bachelors seeking rural girls.

Zhai worried that the influence will not only be the growing number of bachelors. Poorer people will be more likely to feel the pinch of China's gender imbalance, he said, with rural men resorting to prostitutes and "mercenary" marriages in which women are sold and forced to wed.

This will not only aggravate the imbalanced population structure, but also deform the current social class structure, the pattern of consumption and the organizational structure into a more male-dominant style, he said.

Western scholars Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. Den Boer, who wrote "Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population" in 2004, cited two rebellions in disproportionately male areas in ancient China, indicating that a surplus of males could pose a threat to China's stability.

Zhai agreed that the current situation could endanger population security and social stability if not dealt with properly.

Addressing the imbalance

Despite several previous efforts, the government is again clamping down on illegal sex determination and sex-selective abortions. The Ministry of Health has formally prohibited hospitals from testing the sexes of fetuses and performing sex-selective abortions for anything other than medical needs.

However, this may only bring slight improvement, as China's sex ratio is at a very high level and the crackdown campaign is temporary. It may relieve some of the symptoms, but will do little, if anything, to cure the disease.

To help restore gender balance, China must continue to promote the idea that "girls are as good as boys" and raise the status of females in society, in order to eliminate traditional sexist preferences. It is predicted that the process to rectify this imbalance will take a very long time.