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Take gender preference out of family planning
By Dwight Daniels (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-11 09:11

Gender equality in China continues to be a nagging problem.

For one thing, the old "We want a boy!" mentality still pervades Chinese thinking when it comes to young couples planning to start a family.

What's worse, it's reinforced by nonsensical family traditions in a nation where filial piety often dictates family decisions.

The thinking is simple: Parents believe a son will be a better provider for them in their senior years.

Elders echo that misguided notion, which stems from centuries-old feudalistic ideas. Perhaps a lagging social security system should take some of the blame.

At the current gathering of China's national leaders, the problem has been addressed.

Li Weixiong, vice-chairman of the Population, Resources and Environment sub-committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said some 30-40 million Chinese men of marrying age may be forced to live the "single" life by 2020.

Why? Because, as Li put it to his fellow members of the CPPCC National Committee, the practice of women having CT-gender screenings of their embryos - so couples can select boys in pregnancies rather than girls - is out of control in some areas of China.

Stricter enforcement of the Chinese ban against gender selection should be undertaken, with those who practise it punished.

If gender selection isn't soon brought in line, greater disparities could occur.

How badly has this spiralled out of control? Census statistics reveal the newborn gender ratio in China was 100 girls to 108.5 boys in 1982.

In 1990, the ratio was 100 girls to 111.3 boys, and then 100 girls to 116.9 boys in 2000. Alarmingly, it reached as high as 130 boys to 100 girls in Hainan and Guangdong that year.

"The great disparity between male and female newborns mean a serious threat to building a well-off society," Li said at the CPPCC annual session in Beijing.

"Such serious gender disproportion poses a major threat to the healthy, harmonious and sustainable growth of the nation's population and could trigger such crimes and social problems as mercenary marriage, abduction of women and prostitution," he added, as quoted by the Xinhua News Agency.

Li urged the government to adopt a combination of legal, economic, educational and cultural measures to lower the birth proportion of males to females. But just how do you go about doing that? I ask this: Why would anyone in today's China prefer the birth of a son over that of a daughter?

The achievements of Chinese women at home and abroad are astounding. They make leading discoveries in science. They play instruments in great orchestras across the globe. They sing, they dance, they write, they act, they operate and save lives, they teach.

After putting a man in space for the first time last October, China is planning to train female astronauts, according to the All-China Women's Federation. Maybe one will walk on the moon for her country. Who knows?

Perhaps in another decade or so, I hope we will see a woman at the helm of the Middle Kingdom.

For now, and the immediate future, young women in China can take satisfaction in knowing they can bide their time in making marital decisions. They should be very selective, picking from the very best of the male gene pool.

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