BEIJING Aug. 12, 2011 -- The figures are in from China's 2010 census and the results are conclusive: China's gender imbalance is getting worse and worse. There were 118.08 males for every 100 females last year, up from 116.9 males for every 100 females in 2000, according to the 2010 census.
At the current rate, there will be 20 million more men than woman within the next couple of decades, officials said.
"The gender ratio imbalance can be attributed to multiple causes, including a traditional preference for sons, the practice of arranging for sons to take care of elderly parents, illegal sex-selective abortions and other factors," Deputy Minister of Health Liu Qian said at a news conference Tuesday.
It has been 30 years since China introduced its one child policy, which restricts urban couples to having just one child. The government says that strict family planning has helped prevent roughly 400 million additional births.
China Urges End to 'Discrimination Against Girls'
While the policy has helped China rein in explosive population growth, it has brought a new set of problems. China's elderly population is expanding rapidly, while the younger labor force will start shrinking within a few years. And then there's the gender imbalance, the result of a traditional preference for boys in China. Sex-selective abortion is a huge problem across the country but now authorities are cracking down.
Earlier this week, the government released its new "Outline for the Development of Chinese Children (2011-2020)" which says that steps should be taken to "eliminate discrimination against girls" and to promote gender equity.
"Using ultrasonic techniques to conduct non-medical sex determination" should be strictly prohibited, it says, adding that doctors who are discovered to be carrying out sex-selective abortions will have their licenses stripped.
Family planning policies have loosened in recent years. In some parts of the country, couples that are made up of two only children are allowed to have two children themselves. In rural areas, couples can try for a second child if the first born is a girl. And ethnic minorities are generally allowed to have multiple children.
China's Preference for Boys Widens Gender Gap
The government plan comes as Guangdong, one of the country's most wealthy and populous provinces, is pushing to relax family planning policies even further, proposing that the government allow couples to have two children if even just one of the parents is an only child.
Earlier this month, Chinese were stunned by reports in two separate Guangdong newspapers that healthy, fertile couples were taking fertility drugs with the hopes of having multiple births, all in the name of circumventing the one-child policy.
With additional reporting from the Xinhua News Agency.