In pursuit of boy babies, families send samples to HK for sex tests, abort girls

By Liu Xin Source:Global Times-Agencies Published: 2017/1/16 18:48:39

Even as China relaxes its one-child policy, the traditional preference for boys still means many will not be satisfied without a son.

Some parents are still getting illegal tests to find out the sex of their unborn child, in order to decide whether to get an abortion

A pregnant woman is about to walk into the hospital. Photo: IC

A pregnant woman is about to walk into the hospital. Photo: IC

A doctor performs a fetus sex test. Photo: CFP

A doctor performs a fetus sex test. Photo: CFP

"A test showed that there was no Y-chromosomal DNA in my blood, so my husband and I decided to have the abortion," said Xiao Zhu (pseudonym), a resident of Yongjia county, East China's Zhejiang Province.

Pregnant Xiao Zhu sent a sample of her blood to a Hong Kong-based medical organization to find out the sex of her fetus. The absence of Y-chromosomal DNA showed that there was a high possibility it was a girl.

The day after receiving the test result, Xiao Zhu had an abortion.

Xiao Zhu used gene detection technology, which claims to be able to predict a baby's sex by analyzing a small amount of the pregnant mother's blood.

The procedure is illegal on the Chinese mainland, so many parents-to-be are looking to Hong Kong clinics that offer this service. The government is trying to battle against countless generations of preference for boys.

Because of this tradition, the sex ratio at birth in recent years has been high, even reaching 117 boys to every 100 girls at one point. Past preference for boys has also resulted in many men being lifelong bachelors nowadays, a trend set to continue in coming decades. Even today, after China scrapped its one-child policy, young parents are still secretly following this practice in hope of getting children of both sexes.

Shady business

Staff at the Yongjia county family planning department found that several married women in the area decided to get an abortion after being pregnant for less than two months, even though they had not violated any family planning regulations. It seems to have become a trend.

Yongjia county police collected more than 100 fetus sex test results sent to local women and found that most of the tests were done by two Hong Kong-based companies, DiagCor Bioscience Incorporation Ltd and Hong Kong Laboratory.

However, an announcement released on the official website of DiagCor Bioscience claimed the company has always followed laws and regulations, and any illegal activities were conducted by some from the Chinese mainland under the company's name. "The company will take legal means to crack down on swindlers," read the announcement.

The Global Times reporter found a Shenzhen-based company using the DiagCor Bioscience name. According to the introduction on its official website, it claimed to be "China's most authoritative molecule lab" that "offers chromosomal tests to deal with people's health and symptoms."

The services listed on the company's website include non-invasive parentage testing and "sex identification after 7 weeks of pregnancy, the highest accuracy in China."

The company using the DiagCor Bioscience name could not be reached for comment as of press time.

But the Global Times reporter found many agencies offering to identify the sex of unborn babies simply by putting "Hong Kong" and "fetus sex identification" into a search engine.

An employee from an agency found via this simple search said that customers could choose to have the blood test in Hong Kong or send their blood sample to Shenzhen where the samples would be taken to Hong Kong by agency employees.

"It usually takes two days to get the results and the total fee is 4,000 yuan ($577)," said the employee, mentioning that the agency could also take the woman's blood sample in Shenzhen.

There's no guarantee of the accuracy of these blood tests, due to the unknown source of the blood taking tools, questions about whether the process is in accordance with safety requirements and the risk of damage to the sample while it is transported.

Customs crackdown

According to the ban on fetus sex tests and sex-selective abortions released by the National Health and Family Planning Commission in May 2016, any organizations or individuals involved in either of these practices would be punished.

"Enterprises that sell or rent equipment for B-ultrasound or chromosome detection to unqualified organizations or individuals will be asked to reform and fined 10,000 to 30,000 yuan," read the regulation.

However, sending blood samples to Hong Kong is not the only way to identify a fetus' sex.

The Beijing Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau seized three boxes of reagents apparently used for fetus sex tests which had been sent from the US in October 2016, according to a press release from the official website of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

The introduction of the reagent claimed that by putting the reagent into the urine of pregnant woman, it could help test the child's sex - green for a boy and orange for a girl.

Beijing customs destroyed the reagent in accordance with related regulations. And they asked e-commerce platforms to rectify and tell customers to abide by the laws, read the press release.

At least two pregnant women in Beijing reached by the Global Times confirmed that doctors in private hospitals would give a hint about the child's sex when asked by parents.

"Although China relaxed the one-child policy in October 2015,which could help decrease the ratio imbalance to some extent, many couples who have had a girl want to have a boy as their second child,"  Zhai Zhenwu, a sociologist at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.

Source: GT


 Serious imbalance

The fact that the fetus sex identification industry in Shenzhen and Hong Kong has grown bigger fits Zhai's remarks.

Xie Yongping, a team leader from the Yongjia Public Security Bureau, said "The service chain has developed in more than 20 provinces and municipalities, involving more than 50,000 pregnant women and 200 million yuan… More than 100 people are related to the cases … We call it [the chain of] 'the blood empire.'"

The explosion of "the blood empire" has led to a serious imbalance in child sex ratios with Li explaining that the ratio between boys and girls once hit 136 boys for every 100 girls. While the global average is 103 to 107 baby boys to 100 baby girls.

China's national sex ratio at birth has remained high since the late 1980s, and reached 117 boys to 100 girls in 2011. And illegal sex identification and abortions are the direct causes behind this phenomenon.

The country has launched a series of crackdowns on these tests and abortions and 6,700 such cases were busted in the three years before August 2011 and over 2,400 people were punished nationwide, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Zhai mentioned that the preference for male children is influenced by traditional Chinese culture and it is more common in rural areas.

According to a 2010 Social Development Blue Paper from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the sex ratio of those below 19 is the worst hit of all the different age groups. By 2020, the number of Chinese men of marriageable age will outnumber their female peers by 24 million.

Lu Jiehua, a professor at the Department of Sociology in Peking University said that "gender equality is a basic state policy. We should not only advocate it but push it through activities to give girls a more relaxed environment."

Only by providing fair opportunity to girls in all aspects, including education and employment, will people finally realize that it is the same to have a boy or a girl, Lu said.

CCTV contributed to the story

Newspaper headline: The blood empire


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