In China 30 million men may stay single for life
by Monica Romano

Beijing (AsiaNews) – About 30 million Chinese may never marry because of a shortage in women caused by selectively aborting female foetuses and high female infanticide. For this reason the Chinese government has sounded the alarm to pre-empt this serious social problem in a country where, contrary to the general trend, there are more men than women.

Xie Zhenming, deputy director of the Population and Development Research Centre of the State Family Planning Commission, said China had entered a critical stage in which it was necessary to prevent a disproportionately higher male birthrate. "It is just like HIV/AIDS. Action needs to be taken before the situation gets out of control," he said.

According to data published by the South China Morning Post, a prestigious Hong Kong daily, the 2000 Census indicates that the male-to-female ratio was 120 to 100. Other sources claim that the ratio was 122 to 100. By contrast, the world average is 107 males for every 100 females.

In some southern provinces the imbalance has been getting worse since the 1990s. In Jiangxi province there are 138 males for 100 females; in Guangdong, 137 for 100. The data indicate that the situation is not as dramatic in more remote regions and provinces of the country like Guizhou, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Tibet, Ningxia, Qinghai and Xinjiang. Here the ratio is about 110 males for 100 females.

Under normal circumstances the number of females should be much higher than it actually is since infant girls tend to be stronger at birth than infant boys. The Chinese government's "one child" policy is responsible for this imbalance since it compels couples to rid themselves of infant girls or avoid registering them with the authorities if they want to have another chance at having a son.

In addition to cultural factors that partly explain the phenomenon, practical reasons also enter the picture. This is especially true in rural areas where females are less valued than males. The harsh demands of working in the fields as well as the onerous cost of raising women only to see them leave for the benefit of the husband's family are some of these reasons. Parents tend to give less emotional and physical care to females than males. In concrete terms, they may privilege males in terms of the nutrition, health care and education they provide. Furthermore, the right to an education is not an option for unregistered girls and is likely to lead to future social discrimination. In their adult life unregistered females may be forced into a life of poverty, subordinated to their husbands, without adequate employment opportunities, exploited, and often coerced into prostitution.

Recently, the UN has sounded the alarm asserting that without corrective measures 40 to 60 million girls might be "missing" in 10 years because of selective abortions and infanticide. Last year, the State Population and Family Planning Commission launched a "girl care campaign" providing incentives to families to raise girls.

Another sinister side to "being female" in China is the high rate of abandonment of infant girls. Some experts estimate than anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000 girls are abandoned each year, mostly by migrant women from the rural areas who cannot take them to the cities.

Once a rural problem, child abandonment is fast becoming an urban one as well as a result of frequent intercity migration by job-seeking women. According to a recent report by the Beijing Star, in the first four months of 2004 Beijing's Hepingli Hospital had to admit more than 50 abandoned girls. Wang Liyao, researcher at the Anhui Academy of Social Sciences, said that "most migrant workers don't regard the baby as a human life, and so they don't consider killing the baby as murder."

Trafficking in human beings is one of the most serious social consequences of sex discrimination. The shortage in women is pushing an increasing number of men to buy women (often minors from countries in serious economic difficulties like North Korea) in order to find a spouse.