A woman feeds her daughter in a Shanghai market in 2005.

As China’s Gender Imbalance Grows, So Does Threat to Girls

June 08, 2009 02:30 PM
by Shannon Firth
The first generation born under China’s one child policy is grown and faces a shortage of brides. Criminals are exploiting the problem with kidnappings.

Families Torn Apart by Kidnapping

Boys are at a greater risk of being abducted because they are needed to continue a family line, according to the BBC. But girls in China face dangers too: those who aren’t aborted risk being kidnapped by gangs and sold as brides.

More than 2,000 children and young women are abducted each year, and that is a low estimate. Two-and-a-half-year-old Li Xiang Xiang is one tragic example. Xiang Xiang's father, Li Faming, 35, said she was kidnapped April 1. He told the Times of London, “I can’t eat. My wife cries every night. Our son, who’s one, has been sick since his sister vanished and now he’s in hospital.” The Times of London said the family was allowed a second child because their first was a girl.
Family and friends hung missing child posters and offered a reward. After the police were called on to intervene when a con artist tried to extort money, the police took down the notices. 

In the United States and Britain, missing child cases have caused media frenzies: Madeleine McCann and Cayley Anthony are just two examples in recent history.

But in China, the Times of London explains, that “kind of media and police attention … is unimaginable.” The government and police won’t allow such disturbing crimes to taint the town’s image, say other citizens.

Still, Chinese parents have ignored the government’s cues and its “instinctive repression of any mass campaign” by registering on a Web site whose meaning translates to “baby come home.”

According to WorldNetDaily, the government recently implemented “The Girl Care Project” to educate and encourage families to respect girls. China also hopes to establish over 200 DNA centers to process and store genetic material to help stop child trafficking, the BBC reported. As of early May, 43 centers had already been constructed, findingDulcinea reported.

Background: China’s cultural preference for boys

According to a 2004 MSNBC article, China’s one child policy was instituted in 1980 to curb population growth and “fast-track economic modernization.”

EcoSalon writer Luanne Bradley explained that sons are more valuable in Chinese society because they pass on the family name and watch over their parents as they age. She adds, “Daughters are expected to care for their husband’s parents.”

The one-child policy, coupled with such profound cultural biases, the production of inexpensive ultrasound devices, and “backstreet” sex-selected abortions, resulted in the “prevention of some 300 million births,” MSNBC reported.

According to WorldNet Daily, which cites a World Health Organization report from 1997, girls who weren’t killed in the womb, “were starved to death after birth, the victims of violence or were not treated when they became ill.”

Media reports stating the current ratio of boys to girls vary between 116 boys born for every 100 girls, according to EcoSalon, and 124 boys for every 100 girls, the Times of London reported, citing the British Medical Journal.

Still, Population Vice-Minister Zhao Baige calls the one-child policy “a diversified mechanism.” Farmers are allowed two children, particularly if the first child is a girl, and in ethnic areas and very isolated regions, having three children is permissible.

But breaking such laws results in “substantial fines, confiscation of belongings, and dismissal from work for noncompliance.”

In 2008, Zhang Weiqing, the minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission in China, told the New York Times that the government would continue its one-child policy despite rumors to the contrary, according to findingDulcinea.

Zhang, who predicts there will be 200 million childbearing adults in the next 10 years, argues, “Given such a large population base, there would be major fluctuations in population growth if we abandoned the one-child rule now.”

Opinion & Analysis: The fallout from China’s one child policy

Experts have been watching the one child policy develop since its inception, and warned of imbalance problems for years. Unmarried men in China are called guang guan, or “bare branches.” Valerie Hudson, Brigham Young University political scientist, told USA Today in 2002 that they are seen as the “losers in societal competition.”

And as far back as 1997, a Chinese magazine, Beijing Luntan, noted that because of the shortage of women, “such sexual crimes as forced marriages, girls stolen for wives, bigamy, visiting prostitutes, rape, adultery … homosexuality … and weird sexual habits appear to be unavoidable,” USA Today reported.

In 2006, the Washington Post cited Martin Walker, a United Press International editor, who predicted by 2020 China will have “40 million frustrated bachelors.” The result of which can only be “mass sexual frustration,” which could lead to violence and other issues.

Walker compares the current population imbalance to one that occurred following a famine in the 19th century. Following Hudson’s research, Walker explains because food was scarce, families starved their young baby girls, which led years later to hordes of unmarried ruffians causing trouble during the “Nien Rebellion.”

He predicts a similar crisis where “mobs of rootless young men” take up the goal of freeing Taiwan.

Post writer Peter Carlson took a light-hearted stab at Walker’s theory and proposed a solution: “The Chinese send us all of their sexually frustrated young men who can hit three-point jump shots” in return for the “sexually frustrated American women, who like to complain that all the good men are either married, gay or in jail.”

Related Topic: Kidnapped children cloud international adoption

Some of China’s daughters have been given up for international adoption. According to World Net, two-thirds of Chinese children put up for foreign adoption are girls. But what would you do if your adopted child’s biological parents never intended to give their child away?

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