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China's surplus of sons: A geopolitical time bomb

Ending its one-child policy could ease instability.

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The Olympics are around the corner. Just as qualifying athletes are training hard for the big event, China seeks to put its best foot forward in response to critics at home and abroad.

Among the criticisms is a quiet but serious challenge: the artificially high number of Chinese men compared with Chinese women. China should act expeditiously to correct the social and legal pressures that have converged to create this problem.

"Son preference" is a deep-seated, widespread problem in many cultures. In many parts of the world, having a son is integral to one's future financial and social wellbeing. Recent articles have tried to shed light on the problem in India – putting much blame on the ultrasound machines women use to determine the sex of their unborn children in order to decide whether they should abort a female fetus.

In China, however, the problem takes on a frightfully larger scope when "son preference" meets the notorious One Child policy. When the government only allows one child, it puts immense pressure on Chinese parents to determine the sex of their child in the womb, and terminate the pregnancy if it is a girl.

The unintended consequences of this government policy are staggering. The proportion of male births to female births (the "sex ratio") is not merely unusual, but alarming. Worldwide, there are already 100 million girls "missing" due to sex-selective abortion and female infanticide, according to the English medical journal The Lancet. Fifty million of these girls are thought to be from China. In many provinces, the sex ratio at birth is between 120 to 130 boys for every 100 girls; the natural number is about 104. What will happen in future decades when these boys grow up and look for wives?

Among other things, such a situation would exacerbate the growing problem of sexual trafficking, which will surely have its hardest effect on the most vulnerable in the developing world as China grows richer.


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