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Abortion, abandonment of baby girls cited in China’s gender imbalance

LONDON (BP)–The ratio of baby girls to baby boys in China has dropped further below the international standard — the result, critics say, of its controversial “one-child policy,” which in some cases has led to sex-selective abortion, infanticide and the abandonment of baby girls, CNSNews.com reported April 6.

According to the latest figures released by Chinese authorities in early April, the gender imbalance has reached 117 boys for every 100 girls, up from 111:100 about 10 years ago. The international norm is 106 boys to 100 girls.

China’s population has reached 1.26 billion, below the government’s target and U.N. projections, and Beijing said that proves its one-child policy is working.

Twenty years ago, China launched a program aimed at slowing its galloping population growth by discouraging parents from having more than one child, using both incentives and penalties to enforce the policy.

Many rural peasants, who make up the majority of the population, are anxious to have a son to help support them in their old age, particularly in the absence of a social security blanket.

The rules were relaxed somewhat for rural people — who may have a second child if their firstborn is a girl, but not a third — yet the problems persist.

Human rights monitors say the gender imbalance is partly attributable to incomplete population statistics, as families sometimes avoid reporting the birth of a daughter so they can continue trying for a son.

But it is also the result of blatant abuses, sometimes perpetrated by the parents themselves, sometimes by local-level family planning officials aiming to meet official quotas, CNSNews.com reported.

Although the practice is illegal, some Chinese parents abort baby girls after ascertaining their gender during an ultrasound scan. The government tries to counter this by banning scans for gender determination, but sex-selective abortions continue, and human rights groups say the authorities do little to stop them.

A 1999 report on the International Planned Parenthood Federation website says that between 500,000 and 750,000 unborn Chinese girls are aborted every year after gender screening.

Human Rights in China, a Hong Kong-based group, has comprehensively studied and reported on China’s family planning policies.

HRC spokesperson Beatrice Laroche said by telephone from Paris that the organization did not take a position on China’s need to cut its population, but rather on “the methods being used by the government” to do so.

Laroche said coercive measures taken by local family planning officials sometimes affected entire families. For example, a woman who becomes pregnant without permission may go into hiding during the pregnancy, but authorities will then detain her relatives as punishment. If the whole family disappears, their home also may be demolished. Beatings are regularly reported.

“The central government says it does not want violent means used, but there are very few examples of prosecutions, and even fewer of punishment. Local cadres act with impunity,” Laroche told CNSNews.com.

Asked what the Human Rights in China group would like to see happen, Laroche said there has to be an end to the abusive methods and more effort put into “fighting prejudice against baby girls.”

Other problems that needed addressing included the provision of a social security system for rural Chinese.

In a 1999 report, HRC explained that Chinese couples have to apply for birth permits before starting a pregnancy. After the permitted one or two children have been born, any future pregnancies have to be aborted, and women are forced to wear an IUD or be sterilized.

Those who fail to abide by the rules can lose their jobs and homes, and pay crippling fines.

Women can be forced to have abortions even up to the final trimester, and cases have been reported of babies being killed just before their expected birth date.

“Sterilization, one of the principal forms of birth control, may also be performed when parents suffer from alleged ‘genetic disorders,’ a practice justified by the eugenic objective of ‘improving the quality of the population,'” the report said.

Abandonment is another problem. In a single district of one city alone, HRC said, “every year, no fewer than 20 abandoned baby girls are found in dustbins and corners.”

In Hunan province, 92 percent of the 16,000 children abandoned over a four-year period were girls. Ninety percent of “orphans” are girls too, another indication parents are more likely to abandon baby girls in the hopes of having a son.

“These practices [sex-selective abortions, infanticide and abandonment] are officially banned, but in reality they continue as the objective of meeting quotas appears to override concerns about children’s health and survival,” the report said.

On the other hand, couples who comply are offered economic incentives and much-publicized assurances of a higher quality of life, as spelled out in government propaganda slogans like, “With two children you can afford a 14-inch TV, with one child you can afford a 21-inch TV.”

The U.S. State Department’s 2000 report on human rights worldwide noted that China’s population control policy “relies on education, propaganda, and economic incentives, as well as on more coercive measures, including psychological pressure and economic penalties. For example, all workers at a factory or other work unit might lose a bonus if one worker has a child without permission.”

Announcing the population in Beijing, chief statistician Zhu Zhixin acknowledged concerns about the sex ratio imbalance, but said the government was working to address the matter, CNSNews.com reported.
Goodenough is the London bureau chief for CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Patrick Goodenough