China Ratchets Up One-Child Policy, Part II

Steven W. Mosher also contributed to this article.

chinese-childrenAs the municipality of Huizhou, China, redoubles its efforts at population control, little girls, both born and unborn, are sure to die in large numbers.

In Part I, we reported that the Centralized Services for Population and Family Planning of Huizhou was undertaking a new campaign to lower the birth rate in this city of four million people. This despite the fact that Huizhou, and other cities in Guangdong’s Pearl River Delta, have had lower fertility rates than the rest of China for decades.[1]

Given the preference for sons in China, any effort to lower the number of babies born increases the number of little girls who are sacrificed so that their brothers may live. This is especially true in the countryside, even though rural families are allowed a second child if their first child is a girl. This concession—made in 1986 in an attempt to curb female infanticide—has only proven partially successful.[2] Despite this concession, rural areas in China have abnormally high ratios of boys to girls.[3,4]


Sex Ratios and Sex Selection

We call the ratio of males to females the “sex ratio.” The natural ratio at birth across all human populations is 106 males for every 100 females.[5] That is to say, that are 106 boys born for every 100 girls. Any sex ratio at birth that is higher than 106:100 is unnatural; it is the result of deliberate human actions, such as the selective abortion of unborn girls and female infanticide.

To occur in a population, sex selection requires that four conditions be met:

1) Sex preference: The parents must prefer one sex (invariably the male) over the other.

2) Sex determination: The parents must be able to determine the sex of the unborn child before birth.

3) Low fertility: As fertility declines, a strong preference for male children generally leads to increased sex selective abortion. Where fertility is still high, girls do not come at the expense of boys. The sex-ratios of high fertility populations are generally natural.

4) Ability to act: For a sex ratio to be skewed at birth, widespread access to abortion must be available. For a sex ratio to be skewed after birth, the parents must have a means of eliminating their child.

Unfortunately, all of these conditions are met in modern China. There is a strong preference for sons and there is the ability, because of the widespread use of ultrasound machines, to identify the sex of unborn children. At the same time, the one-child policy relentlessly pushes the birth rate downward, while at the same time promoting abortion and infanticide to meet birth quotas.  The result is a “perfect storm” for China’s girls.


China’s Missing Girls

China today has one of the most skewed sex ratios in the world, with 119 male babies born for every 100 females. And the problem gets even worse from there. In the years after birth, malnourished and neglected baby girls die in larger numbers than their cherished brothers. As a result, there are 124 boys for 100 girls under the age of 5 in China.[6]

In Guangdong, where the city of Huizhou is located, the problem is even worse. While the sex ratio at birth comes in at the national average of 119:100, the sex ratio for young children is abysmally high. Neglect, malnutrition, and infanticide combine to decimate the population of little girls.  As a result, there are 133 boys for every 100 girls under the age of 5 in the province.[7]

Just how many little girls are missing and presumed dead in China because of the deadly combination of China’s one-child policy and the preference for sons?  Estimates run up into the tens of millions.

It is obvious by now that the long-term consequences of eliminating so many girls will be disastrous. Highly skewed sex-ratios in China have already led to social evils such as child marriage, sex-slavery, prostitution, and cross-border trafficking in women.[8] China is the only country in which the suicide rate is higher for women than for men.[9,10] Over the long run, China’s current policies are demographically unsustainable.

Yet while even demographers within China are tentatively calling for an end to the one-child policy, the Chinese government is paradoxically tightening the screws even further, and in a region in which little girls are already dying in disturbingly large numbers. If China’s leaders are disdainful of morality, ignorant of demography, and resistant to international pressure, then what will they respond to?

China’s daughters are crying out for them to end the one-child policy now.

[1] Chen, Jiajian, et al. “Effects of population policy and economic reform on the trend in fertility in Guangdong Province, China, 1975–2005.” Population Studies 64.1 (2010): 43-60.

[2] Mosher, Steven W. A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy. New York: Park Press, 1993.

[3] Zhu, Wei Xing, Li Lu, and Therese Hesketh. “China’s excess males, sex selective abortion, and one child policy: analysis of data from 2005 national intercensus survey.” BMJ: British Medical Journal 338 (2009).

[4] Hesketh, Therese, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing. “The effect of China’s one-child family policy after 25 years.” New England Journal of Medicine 353.11 (2005): 1171-1176.

[5] Kenneth, Wachter. Essential Demographic Methods. Berkeley. 2012.

[6]  Zhu, Wei Xing, Li Lu, and Therese Hesketh. “China’s excess males, sex selective abortion, and one child policy: analysis of data from 2005 national intercensus survey.” BMJ: British Medical Journal 338 (2009).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Hvistendahl, Martha. Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.  New York: PublicAffairs, 2011.

[9] Yip, Paul SF, et al. “Suicide rates in China during a decade of rapid social changes.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 40.10 (2005): 792-798.

[10] Yip, Paul SF, and Ka Y. Liu. “The ecological fallacy and the gender ratio of suicide in China.” The British Journal of Psychiatry 189.5 (2006): 465-466.

This article is courtesy of the Population Research Council.