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China's Gender Crisis

1/30/2007 - 5:55 AM PST

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Family Planning, Missing Girls and Rapid Aging

By Father John Flynn

ROME, JAN. 30, 2007 (Zenit) - 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 ...

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