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Beijing Aims to Toughen Laws on Sex-Selective Abortions

  • Claudia Blume

Worried that a growing gender imbalance in the country could threaten social stability, the Chinese government is planning to strengthen a ban on using abortions to select a child's gender. Claudia Blume reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

In China, a traditional preference for sons is aggravated by the nation's one-child policy. Many couples abort female fetuses in the hope of later giving birth to a son.

David Phillips, a professor of social policy at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, says as a result of sex-selective abortions - as well as cases of female infanticide - there is a growing gender imbalance in the country.

"It's something like about 120 baby boys born to about 100 baby girls," he said. "If you are in nature, the average is about 105, 106 boys to 100 girls so it's obviously clearly 15 or 20 percent higher - so that's just sort of a factual thing."

Phillips says millions of the boys born today will not be able to find a spouse when they grow up - in a society that puts strong emphasis on marriage and family. Demographers are worried about a huge army of bachelors displaying socially disruptive behavior.

State media reported that Beijing wants to reverse the imbalance by 2010. Sex-selective abortion is already illegal in China, but current laws do not outline punishments for violations. China's State Council is drafting revisions to the law, defining the responsibilities of various government agencies in enforcing the existing ban.

Phillips says the current law does not work because there is insufficient enforcement and penalties.

"I don't like to sort of say that's really just because people were not looking, officials were not looking, but obviously the medical profession must have been complicit in this - providing ultrasound and other prenatal diagnosis methods," he said.

China implemented the one-child-policy more than 20 years ago to slow the growth of its population, which now stands at 1.3 billion people. Beijing has relaxed the rules in recent years, allowing rural families to have two children if the first one is a girl. But China's leaders do not plan to reverse the family planning policy in the foreseeable future.

Phillips thinks, however, that even if the one-child policy ended, there would not necessarily be a jump in the number of girls. Many urban Chinese, leading busy and expensive lifestyles, do not want to have more than one child - and they will want a boy.