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China’s Gender Crisis
Family Planning, Missing Girls and Rapid Aging

By Father John Flynn

ROME, JAN. 29, 2007 ( The Chinese government has officially recognized that its family planning programs have left the country with a shortage of girls.

Zhang Weiqing, director of China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, admitted the same in a statement to the South China Morning Post on Jan. 24. “Of course,” he conceded, “the gender imbalance has something to do with China’s strict family planning policy.”

Zhang also said that the imbalance was expected to worsen.

The director did explain, however, that the government’s policy was not the only factor causing the imbalance. He explained that the skewed gender ratio is also a result of an ingrained cultural tradition that favors boys over girls. Zhang said that ultrasounds are often used by parents to detect unwanted girls so that the females can be aborted.

According to Zhang, the government’s strict one-child policy applies to only 35.9% of the mainland’s population. Another 52.9% is allowed a second child if the first is a girl. A further 9.6%, poor farmers, are allowed two children. Ethnic minorities, which constitute 1.6% of the population, are permitted to have at least two children.

It’s raining men

In an Associated Press article Jan. 23, Zhang revealed that China’s male-female ratio in 2005 is 118-to-100. That’s an increase from the already imbalanced ratios reported at 108-to-100 in 1982, and 111-to-100 in 1990. In some regions, the figure has hit an astronomical 130 boys for every 100 girls. The average for industrialized countries is between 104 and 107 boys for every 100 girls.

The Associated Press also reported on Jan. 12 that China would have 30 million more men of marriageable age than women in less than 15 years. The data cited by AP came from a front-page report on the pending demographic crisis published by the China Daily newspaper. That newspaper report also commented that social instability could well result from having tens of millions of men unable to find wives.

Not surprisingly many of China’s kids are growing up without brothers and sisters.

Zhao Baige, vice minister for China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, said that China’s family planning policies is why 90 million of the country’s youth are only children. Zhao conceded that, according to surveys, 60% of Chinese would prefer to have two children, the Associated Press reported Jan. 19.

Officials are divided over what to do next. “Deep divisions,” reported the Financial Times on July 12, “have emerged within the Chinese government over how to manage its controversial one-child policy”

Reportedly, the National Population and Family Planning Commission was in favor of criminalizing gender-selective abortions. Yet in June, the National People’s Congress scrapped a proposed measure that would have imposed jail terms for such abortions.

The media also send mixed signals. The South China Morning Post reported Jan. 24 that Zhang had pledged that the government would “unswervingly” continue its birth-control measures in coming years.

Yet a report published the same day by the Washington Post quoted him as saying that fines for violating the one-child limit may be reduced for the poor. “With very poor families, we may reduce part of the social compensation fee or waive the fee, depending on the actual situation,” said Zhang.

A month earlier, on Dec. 28, the South China Morning Post reported that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had said that the government had no plans to change its one-child policy.

On Nov. 10, however, the Agence France-Presse cited the China Daily as reporting that couples, in which both partners are from single-child families, are actually being encouraged to have two children. They need it, reasoned Duan Jianhua, deputy director of family planning in Guangzhou, to the China Daily. He said that these couples bear the entire burden of caring for their aging four parents, and thus they may be tempted to have no children at all.

Protests squashed

Late last year a blind Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng, was sentenced to a jail term of four years and three months for destroying public property and inciting people to disrupt traffic, reported the South China Morning Post on Dec. 1. Chen had exposed human rights abuses committed under China’s one-child policy in and around the city of Linyi, even though the charges against him made no explicit reference to this activity.

His supporters, however, maintain that his work had everything to do with the arrest and subsequent conviction. The South China Morning Post reported that Chinese activists and human rights groups say the charges laid against Chen were meant to silence him and punish him for exposing abuses carried out under the one-child policy.

Chen was convicted in August, but had won an appeal in November on the grounds of a lack of evidence for the conviction, and the case was sent back for a retrial. But the retrial confirmed the same sentence issued by the Yinan county court in Shandong province.

Chen’s relatives and lawyers complained that officials hindered his defense by intimidating witnesses and suppressing evidence. On the day of the retrial, four defense witnesses were kidnapped, Chen’s lawyers said.

Turning gray

Another ill effect of China’s severe population policy is that the country is aging faster than any other major nation in history, according to a report published by the Chicago Tribune on Jan. 23.

Richard Jackson, director of the Global Aging Initiative at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the forced transition from baby boom to baby bust will occasion severe economic problems. “They are looking at 400 million old people 30 years from now, the vast majority of whom will not have pensions or health care or extended family,” he said.

Currently, those older than 60 make up just 11% of China’s 1.3 billion people. By 2050, those over 60 will make up 31% of the population. China will take just 25 years to age as much as Europe did during the last century, said the Chicago Tribune, citing U.N. statistics.

The Boston Globe reported Jan. 2 that the number of people 60 and over is increasing by 6 million a year, and that China’s nursing homes can only accommodate 1.5 million.

Furthermore, most of the elderly have very little savings, and pensions, where they exist, are meager. The government’s ability to provide any sort of public welfare for the elderly is also in doubt. The ratio of workers to retirees in China will decline to about 2-to-1 by 2040.

A front-page article on China’s aging population published by the Washington Post on Dec. 22 said that depression among senior citizens is on the rise, and that increasingly cases are reported of elderly parents who are left abandoned at hospitals or who are suing their children for financial support.

Employers are also feeling the pinch. The New York Times reported June 30 that the country that has built its economic strength on an endless supply of cheap labor may soon face a labor shortage. The one-child policy “may ultimately prove to be another monumental demographic mistake,” the article said.

Factories may be forced to move to other countries, such as India, which have younger populations. Time will tell of the folly of coercive population policies.

According to AP higher up in the article, China’s male-female ratio in 2005 is 118-to-100. The average for industrialized countries in the world is between 104 and 107 boys for every 100 girls.

Anyone wants to take a guess at what Singapore’s male-female ratio is? It’s currently standing at 984-to-1000. The statistics show that this trend is dropping.

Year 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005
Sex Ratio (Males per 1,000 females) 1,049 1,032 1,027 998 984

Yes, the SingStat website can be a very interesting place to visit. It’d be more interesting if you knew how to analyse the statistics… In any case, now we know that the Singaporean woman’s claim that it’s hard to find good Singaporean men is quite true, since there are more women than men in Singapore!

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