China’s Birth Policies and Traditions
Lead to Gender Imbalance

by Barbara Free, M.A.

     Some of us have long known that the combination of China s “one child” policy, combined with its long tradition of strong preference for males, would lead to a shortage of females eventually. According to an article in Time magazine for July 1, 2002, that has now happened. With the enforcement of the “one child” policy, many female babies were aborted, killed, or abandoned over the past generation. Just recently, the news on television told of families aborting female fetuses when they learn the child is a girl during an ultrasound. Landfills also turn up bodies of newborn baby girls. The practice of female infanticide is, unfortunately, not new, but more openly acknowledged today.
     Many baby girls have been abandoned by their mothers, their desperate attempt to provide a life for them by hoping they will be found, placed in an orphanage and adopted. Thousands of these little girls have been adopted by Americans and are now being raised in the United States. Now this article in Time tells of the acute shortage of young women of marriageable age in certain parts of China.
     This should come as no surprise to anyone who can do basic math. If nature has about 105 baby boys born for every 100 girls in that region, which has been the ratio in the past, and now the ratio is 120 or more boys born than girls (at least, those births that are registered), then at least 20% of the young men will have difficulty finding a wife. In some rural areas, apparently, the ratios are even worse, and the Chinese government has relaxed the one-child rule to encourage families to have more children and keep their girls.
     The immediate problem of too few young adult females, however, is resulting in some marriages between first cousins, and even some siblings. Their parents are not proud of this. One woman says it is a subject of shame. Some birth defects, such as cleft palate and deafness, are showing up with alarming frequency in the children of these marriages. In these rural areas, many young people do not have the means to go elsewhere to look for a mate.
     In other regions, the news reports, whole villages of single young men are showing up, young men without much purpose and no prospects for mates. In the past, societies which greatly preferred males avoided these extreme situations by disease and wars, which killed more young men than young women. The World Health Organization reports that China is now short 50 million females. Obviously, those girls who have been adopted by American families are part of this 50 million.
     The question we have now is, will this shortage lead to giving a higher value to females, and change the customs of a culture? Will females be a valuable commodity, or will they be treated with more respect as persons? Will Chinese women who were raised in the United States be encouraged to return to China to marry? Will they want to? What will be the long-term consequences of this shortage of available young women?
     The shortage, so far, is still worsening. In 1990, the shortage was 500,000. In the year 2000, there were 900,000 fewer female births recorded than should have been, compared to male births. Some of those are the children given up for adoption without registering their births, but population experts at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimate that one-third of the girls are missing because of gender-based abortions, and rural Chinese women tend to breast-feed baby girls for shorter periods of time than baby boys, lessening their chances for survival. Some estimates are that in rural areas, 80% of children from ages 5 to 10 are boys. In addition to the long history of extreme preference for boys over girls, the political edicts concerning family size, and the economic realities, even for educated, professional people in China have led to this alarming situation. A few years ago, I met a woman from China who had come over here for a conference for teachers. She taught English reading skills at the college level. She had been allowed to bring only enough money for a short time, and had decided to stay longer and attend another conference, and she was trying to make that bit of money stretch. She told us she had twin boys, ten years old. She had been allowed to keep them because they were twins, for which she was thankful, but she said she and her husband, who was also a teacher, but working in a restaurant, could barely afford to feed both the boys. When college instructors cannot adequately feed even two children, imagine how other young women must struggle, and imagine their despair when that first child is not the preferred sex. I do not know what happened to our friend. She was considering not returning and letting her mother-in-law raise her children, because her own life was not valued by her husband or his family.
     The Chinese girls now being raised in the United States by loving parents, many of them single women who adore these little girls and value them so highly, are being encouraged to maintain their culture and language as much as possible. In the last issue of this newsletter, we reviewed Wuhu Diary, the current story of one little girl s journey, with her adoptive mother, back to her hometown in China. How would LuLu, this precious little girl, fit in if she returned to China as an adult? Would she be as honored as she is here? Would she have a good marriage? We don t know the answers to any of these questions yet, but they are questions that we all need to consider—China, the United States, adoptive parents, and all of us as persons who interact with children of any ethnic background, whatever their sex. Perhaps if we could honor all children, and all adults, such imbalances would not happen.

Excerpted from the October 2002 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2002 Operation Identity