Hardy traditions inform baby gender crisis

By Cui Bowen Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/14 21:35:37

Illustrations: Peter C. Espina/GT


A couple from Shantou, Guangdong Province went on trial last month for allegedly paying about 92,000 yuan ($14,099) for a male baby to a child trafficker in rural Fengshun county. They also paid the child's alleged mother to cover "food and nutrition" costs. The couple had seven daughters. They were willing to pay through the nose for a weeks-old infant because they wanted a son to carry on the family line.

The roots of China's preference for sons are deeply embedded. The feudal economy of ancient China relied on agriculture where men usually performed the heaviest work in the fields while women took care of the family and the house. Meanwhile the traditional bloodline passed down from father to son, not mother to daughter. Women "marry out" and join their husbands' families and should traditionally look after their in-laws rather than their own parents. These traditions effectively maintained women's economic and social inequality for millennia.

The preference for sons is widespread in modern China, perhaps in part due to an inadequate social welfare system. Without a real pension system, the idea of raising sons to provide for old age remains popular with parents who fear being left to fend for themselves when their only married daughter moves in with their new family.

The Chinese hunger for sons fuels abductions and trafficking. Demand is especially strong in rural Fujian, Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces where buying a son is widely accepted and the sale of stolen boys is a thriving business.

A reporter from China's Southern Metropolis Daily studied court documents from 364 cases involving 380 abducted children and 508 suspects between 2014 and 2015. Daughters sold on average for about 10,000 yuan, while sons averaged 45,000 yuan. Child traffickers mainly target families unable to conceive baby boys who long to carry on the family name and be looked after in their old age.

Hunger for sons promotes gender-selective abortions, illegal in China. Although Chinese authorities punish medical institutions, staff and parents for prenatal sex determination, laws can easily be broken.

Some private hospital doctors tacitly hint to parents. They nod or shake their heads, use a full stop or a comma at the end of medical notes. Parents illegally send blood samples to other countries or Hong Kong to identify a fetus' sex.

China remains one of the world's lowest-ranked countries with regard to the gender gap in its sex ratio at birth: 113.5 boys born for every 100 girls in 2015, according to a 2016 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum. By 2020, the number of Chinese men of marriageable age will outnumber their female peers by 24 million, according to a 2010 Social Development Blue Paper by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The surplus of males will likely lead to more sexual violence, crime and social instability. Competition for brides will intensify, making parents pay out for their sons to marry. This will pressurize men's families and challenge young people's views of marriage.

There is an urgent need to raise awareness of gender inequality by providing a more comprehensive educational and working environment for young people. Efforts must be made to rebalance birth numbers and increase urbanization. People will begin to abandon outdated mind-sets with the development of a sound social welfare system that cares for the elderly.

Equal treatment of sons and daughters is gradually emerging in some regions of China. An increasing number of Chinese women are achieving financial independence and more say in their life. But it will still take a long time and a lot of effort to end ancient gender biases.

The author is a post-graduate student in translation studies at Beijing Language and Culture University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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