By Deborah Brancic
As the world watches, China’s population growth is slowing to a stutter, brought on by the government’s self-instituted one-child policy, first introduced in 1978. More and more Chinese parents are pressed to choose whether to have a son or a daughter, and as a result, a greater number of female fetuses are being aborted on an epic scale. What is most disturbing, however, is that the phenomenon seems to be spreading. Asian immigrants to other nations bring with them the self-imposed view that having a son, rather than a daughter, is a necessary means for retirement.
In recent years, an increasing number of countries have noticed the trend, sometimes referred to as “gendercide,” popping up in areas with a high concentration of Asian or Indian inhabitants, many of them immigrants. The Telegraph of Britain recently reported a disparity in the birthrate of its immigrants, specifically those from Asian countries. Closer to our nation, in Canada, an upswing in the percentage of abortions of females was detected. According to the Toronto Star, six hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) of Canada have changed their policies and are withholding information regarding the gender of a patient’s fetus from ultrasounds, in response to higher abortion rates in its immigrant communities.
The effects of gendercide can be seen in documentation displayed on the CIA World Factbook. According to the Web site, the average birth rate for the world is 107 males for every 100 females at birth. The mortality rate for male infants is slightly higher than that of females, so the population tends to even out within the first few years of life. However, in countries where the rate of births is over 110 to 100, this trend which has been dubbed the “missing girls,” can be seen in quantitative terms. India and China are among the frontrunners, with the Factbook showing rates of 112 to 100 and 113 to 100, respectively. Other countries with highly disparate rates are: Liechtenstein, 126 to 100; Azerbaijan, 114 to 100; Armenia, 112 to 100; Vietnam, 112 to 100; and Albania, 111 to 100.
One group has made it its mission to try and combat gendercide in the China region. All Girls Allowed (AGA), a non-profit organization, was founded in June of 2010 by Chai Ling, one of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square student movement of 1989. Her organization has released information and filed complaints on behalf of the Chinese citizens, hoping to bring about a change to the One-Child Policy, which might alleviate some of the social pressures to have a son. “More girls have actually passed away from gendercide than the number of people who have been killed in all of the genocides of the last century, which is staggering,” said Kat Lewis, communications director of AGA. Lewis said that son preference was common in the country for many reasons, including the lack of a social security program, or any source of retirement, and the tradition of sons taking care of their parents when they enter old age. In rural areas, sons are needed to tend to family farms and the like. “Gendercide is stronger in rural areas in China because son preference is stronger. A lot of these families are either migrant laborers or they are agricultural… and so they need sons,” said Lewis.
There are several loopholes in China’s One-Child Policy to help alleviate these pressures. The policy is supposedly restricted to Han Chinese living in urban areas, not minorities or rural citizens, and allows families to apply for a second child if their first was female, had a birth defect, or if both parents were only children. However, these loopholes have given rise to increased gendercide in their application. “In Anhui province… we’ve noticed that the rates of gendercide go up with the first, second, third child,” said Lewis. “So if people in Anhui province have a third child… the birth ratio, the gender ratio at birth is 227 boys… 227 to 100… So gendercide actually happens more when families have extra children.”
While China’s preference for sons may be tied to the One-Child Policy, India has also been recognized as having a problem. Although abortion has been legal since the passing of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) in 1971, they have had to pass additional restrictions to ban abortion on the basis of gender. While the ban is recognized, parents are never prosecuted. Their son preference emerges from social customs as well, such as the gifting of a dowry upon marriage, the lack of social security, employment inequality, and some religious beliefs. “Areas… where a son preference is common… India has huge problem, and their problem is still growing. There they don’t have a one-child policy, but they have an increased access to ultrasound technology. And that’s I think the driving factor,” said Lewis. In India, roughly 11.2M off-the-record abortions are performed every year. An article in the Christian Science Monitor in 2005 noted that there was a legislative proposal to amend a 1994 law that would restrict genetic counseling facilities from revealing the sex of the fetus in an effort to prevent sex selection. This was opposed by medical professionals, stating the technology was too important for health and medical reasons to be put under such intense scrutiny.
Policies restricting doctors from revealing the sex of a fetus have recently been instituted in Canada. An article in the Toronto Star cited a study done by St. Michael’s Hospital that noted a skewed birth ratio in the immigrant community. “The starkest finding was in the category of Indian-born mothers with two previous children. Among their third children, the male-to-female ratio was 136 boys for every 100 girls; by comparison, the children of Canadian-born women have a sex ratio of just 105 boys for every 100 girls,” wrote Jennifer Yang of the Star. The ratio was also skewed among South Korean immigrants. The study noted that “Our findings raise the possibility that couples originating from India may be more likely than Canadian-born couples to use prenatal sex determination and terminate a second or subsequent pregnancy if the fetus is female.”
In addition, there is a policy followed in six of 16 major hospitals in the Toronto area, which prohibits the ultrasound technicians from divulging the gender of the fetus, unless there is a referral from a previous doctor, and all six hospitals are located near immigrant communities.
Britain has also seen this same occurrence, and health officials have noted the birth rates for boys and girls vary noticeably depending on the country where their mothers were born. An article in the Telegraph quoted a health minister as saying the disparity in the birth rate may “fall outside the range considered possible without intervention.”
Other social problems arise from the lack of women in Asia, including increased domestic violence, bride trafficking, and an increased suicide rate. “The Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center reported in 2009 that the suicide rate for females was three times higher than for males,” states the AGA 2012 Report on Gendercide and the One-Child Policy, with facts obtained from the U.S. State Department in 2010. There is also the phenomenon known as “bare branches,” men who have been unable to find a wife and have children, and are therefore the final descendents in their family line.
Some programs have arisen to combat female feticide. Lewis, who has been with AGA since April 2012, said her organization funds a program to encourage Chinese mothers to keep their daughters by offering them a modest stipend in their first year. The women receive $240, amounting to $20 per month for one year, to help cover the first year’s expenses when raising their daughters. The money is obtained from online donors and church partnerships. Lewis said they had about 60 girls enrolled in the program this year.
Also in India, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu enacted a program in 1992, called the “Jayalalithaa Protection Scheme for the Girl Child,” which offered monetary incentives to parents if they had one or two daughters. The program would establish a bank account in the girl’s name if one of the parents agreed to be sterilized. This program was recently updated, with an increase in the incentive amount, and a decrease in the wait time for the funds to be released to the female beneficiary.
With policies like this being established, it can be surmised that the countries are aware of the social problems they are facing, but ways to combat the trend of female feticide in their regions are few and far between. Immigrant mothers take the self-imposed preference for males with them when they leave the countries of their birth, and the issue is appearing in regions previously unaffected by it. The matter may need to be addressed on a global scale if it ever has a chance at being eradicated.