Accessibility links

Breaking News

China’s Shortage of Girls

China, with 1.3 billion people, is the world's most populous country. Even though the government imposed a policy of one child per family 30 years ago, it began allowing more families to have a second child because of another looming crisis - the largest elderly population in China's history is expected to peak in about 20 years. And there's another crisis that will be felt in less than 20 years: the shortage of young Chinese women.

TV report transcript

For Chinese families having a boy means economic security. It assures people that they will be cared for in their old age.

"A boy will stay in his own place and work. A girl will marry and leave. It's like that."

"Around here, it's feudalistic thinking. Everyone wants to have a son. If your family doesn't have a son, people will look down on you. It's like this because people want to have a son to carry on the family name."

In the 1980's the Chinese government began limiting couples to only one child in an attempt to get China's burgeoning population under control.

Those who had more faced large fines and other serious consequences.

But an unexpected result of this policy was that people would abandon, abort, or even kill their baby girls so they could have another chance at having a boy.

At this primary school, there are on average 39 children in each class, 28 of whom are boys. Official Chinese statistics show that there are now about 13 million more young boys than girls. Experts attending a recent population conference in Shanghai expressed concern about this disparity. So did Chen Shengli, with China's Population and Family Planning Commission:

"In 10 years, or even 20, when this generation just born reaches marriageable age and goes to find a spouse, they will not be able to match up evenly. With this shortage of over ten percent, that percentage of men will not be able to find a woman to marry and will not be able to start a family. This we have to acknowledge is going to be a serious social problem."

By 2020, an estimated 40 million marriage-age men will have no one to marry. Experts warn that this could cause outbreaks of violence and even war. Chinese officials say the gender imbalance could trigger an increase in abductions and trafficking of women. Zhang Schwen Li was kidnapped and taken to Inner Mongolia, nearly 1000 miles from her home in Sichuan. Her family hired a private detective to get her home.

"I was sold to become somebody's wife. It was very difficult for me. The man treated me badly and he was sick as well. The rest of the family watched me all the time. When I tried to escape, I was beaten badly. It was terrible. I felt like I wanted to die."

It's not clear how many kidnappings are a result of China's gender imbalance, but to address this growing problem, the government is trying to educate people about family planning. Meanwhile in orphanages across the country, tens of thousands of abandoned girls await an uncertain future.