China Fears Lopsided Sex Ratio Could Spark Crisis

The gender balance continues to increase in China, such that by 2020, nearly 30 million Chinese men will find themselves hard-pressed to land a bride.

A report by China's State Population and Family Planning Commission says that in 2005, there were 118.6 boys born for every 100 girls, and those figures are expected to increase with China's population. Experts warn of increased prostitution, AIDS cases and violence if this trend is not reversed to some degree.

Zhai Zhenwu, professor of demography at the People's University of China, tells ABC News that if this trend continues, "men won't be able to find wives, especially those with low income or little education. That will create social instability and increase discrimination against women."

Traditionally in China, still a male-dominated society, the preference is toward boys. The gender imbalance began to increase in the late 1970s when China instituted its one-child policy.

Today, as urban areas become more economically prosperous, parents can afford to find out the sex of the fetus and can opt for sex-selection abortions. So the government in China's largest province has banned the use of ultrasound machines unless warranted by medical reasons. And the ban on abortion drugs goes into effect this year.

But Chinese couples determined to have a son can easily get around the new laws. A black market has sprung up of people with ultrasound machines in the trunks of cars who will reveal the sex of the fetus for a price.

In rural areas, the sex imbalance is even greater. As many as 130 baby boys are born for every 100 girls.

Here males are preferred out of necessity. Boys can help with the farming and have a better chance to make money for the family, as well as carry on the family name. There are reports that some poor parents of unwanted baby girls sell their babies for as little as $8 to those seeking girls for their sons.

In 2001, the government introduced the "Care for Girls" program, which promoted the birth of girls in rural areas. Families are given 100 yuan (about $13) each month for girls, in an attempt to make female babies more desirable. Also, local education fees are waived for girls.

But old traditions are hard to break.

Some experts have predicted that the more economically stable men will find foreign brides from less prosperous countries around Asia. And the implication of this impending influx is huge. China has never seen immigration on a large scale, and it's likely to resist the cultural changes that come with it.

Professor Zhai says that the best way to combat the growing gender imbalance is to give girls and boys the same opportunity for employment as well as to expand the "Care for Girls" program to more areas of China. And in rural areas, there must be pension, insurance and health care programs available so that aging residents don't have to depend on their sons when they get old.

But the current social services and welfare system is strained. And according to the report, China's population will increase by 200 million in 30 years. This means the total population will reach 1.45 billion by 2020, with 234 million people more than 60 years old. The report says that China's rapidly aging population will create a financial burden that could affect relations between generations and social harmony.

The good news for China is that there will be no shortage of manpower. A huge pool of cheap labor is one of the country's key advantages. Still, a large chunk of those men will almost certainly be bachelors.

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