Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's birth-control policy has aggravated the country's gender imbalance, but it will not change in coming years, National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) director Zhang Weiqing said. Whilst acknowledging that the situation is serious and that the one-child policy made matters worse, he denied it was only the cause. Instead, the skewed sex ratio is also the consequence of the ingrained tradition of favouring boys over girls and the abuse of ultrasound scanning technology.
Whatever the cause the mainland will have 40 million more men of marriageable age than women by 2020, a recent government report estimated.
In 2005, 117 boys were born for every 100 girls, but in some regions the ratio was 130/100, compared with the average for industrialised countries of 104-107/100.
The gender disparity came about after the mainland introduced the one-child policy in 1979.
Yet, as Mr Zhang points out, China's family planning was not truly a "one-child" policy because that requirement only applied to 35.9 per cent of the mainland's population. He said 52.9 per cent of the population was allowed to give birth to a second child if their first was a girl and another 9.6 per cent were poor farmers who were permitted to have two children. Ethnic minorities who represent about 1.6 per cent of the population were allowed to have at least two children.
For many Chinese the unfairness of the policy becomes even more blatant when considering that the fact that the wealthy can "buy" a second child by simply paying a 50,000 yuan fine (US$ 6,200) for breaking the one-child-only rule. And this, Beijing is aware, is fuelling social tensions.
Despite everything, Mr Zhang said Beijing would "unswervingly" continue enforcing its birth-control restrictions because of a baby boom in the 1980s. These measures would continue through to 2010 when the population was expected to reach 1.36 billion. He said the 100 million or so only children born since the 1970s had reached marriageable age and relaxing the rule would result in another wave of births. "It will be very risky if we allow a second child now," he explained.
Although 60 million more people are expected than the landmark 1.3 billion reached two years ago, China’s population is already ageing and this foreshadows future labour shortages.
A survey by the Communist Party’s China Youth Daily, whose results were released on Monday, found that 68 per cent of respondents thought it was unfair that wealthy people could essentially afford to have more babies.
The government realises that its policy has failed but is unwilling to admit it.
Zhang suggests that fines for a second child might be reduced for poorer families because “the rich and the poor are equal before the law”.
Beijing also wants to prevent women from the mainland to go Hong Kong to give birth, which is another way to bypass the one-child policy.
This has become a serious headache for Hong Kong health authorities because of the size of influx and because too often these women end up delivering in the emergency ward.
For this reason, the Hong Kong government has barred women who are beyond 28 weeks of pregnancy from entering without pre-booked obstetric services. Similarly, NPFPC deputy director Wang Guoqiang said the mainland would try to complement efforts taken by Hong Kong.
Analysts note however that whilst pregnant mainlanders might cause problems to Hong Kong, they have no impact on China’s population control policies. Last year 12,072 non-local women gave birth, compared to 28,414 Hong Kong residents. (PB)