Parents turn to illegal exams to ensure their second child is the gender they want

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2016/2/3 19:28:01

As the one-child policy comes to an end, a window of opportunity has opened up for people who want a second child of a different sex from their first-born. Since China has banned hospitals from telling expectant parents their babies' sex before birth, some are discreetly looking into underground clinics that can help them make sure they get a child of the sex they choose. However, these methods are illegal and doctors can face punishment if caught, so they are done in secret, opening the door to scams.

Having two children, a boy and a girl, means a perfect, completed family in Chinese culture. Photo: IC

"Are there any mothers who are choosing to abort their second child because of the child's sex and family pressure?"

A couple days ago, a post sent by an anonymous mother appeared on Babytree, a popular forum where parents and experts discuss maternity and baby care in China.

The mother, who is 13 weeks pregnant, was genuinely troubled by this dilemma. She said when she had the sex of her baby examined last week, her doctor hinted that her baby might be a girl and she immediately had an emotional breakdown. She said she will do another check in a week and if this time the test shows it's a girl, she'll probably have an abortion.

"Call me useless, but I can't face my family's pressure," she wrote. "I can only pray to Buddha that it'll turn out to be a boy."

Her post created a commotion on the forum. Some slammed her decision.

"You shouldn't pray because Buddha can't save you. You should take pity on your baby, sex discrimination really kills," one replied.

But some also expressed sympathy, saying they understand her position and the pressure she faces. This mother's concerns are sadly common, especially after the introduction of the second-child policy. Now hundreds of thousands of people looking to have another child are trying to ensure they can have a child of the sex they choose.

To check or not to check 

These days, it's not necessarily only people that wish to have sons checking the sex of their unborn babies. For couples who already have a son, having a daughter would mean having a perfect, completed family in Chinese culture.

Forum posts asking for advice about sex selection can be commonly seen online today, with people asking for help identifying their babies' sex or asking where to find clinics that can help them. The Global Times reporter found that an Internet search on, forums and social media can easily yield many such results, and it's obvious from these posts that many people are willing to turn to abortion to make sure their second child is of the "right" sex.

On forums, many offered their own experience in telling the sex of the baby.

A post on claimed that one can judge the sex of the baby based on the mother's belly shape. If it looks blown up like a balloon and is pointed forward, it's a boy. If the mother's belly is round and looks like the baby is positioned closer to the mother's waist, then it's a girl.

Even though the post admitted this method has no scientific basis, it still argues that it's accurate most of the time. In the comment section, many netizens suggested other ways to work out the baby's sex, such as looking at the mother's skin, nose, heartbeat or even interpreting her dreams. 

Prompting businesses

But aside from these suggestions, seeing the market demand, some businesses are secretly blooming. QQ chat groups and forums carrying advertisements for medical examination centers are ubiquitous, some specifically including the phrase "second child" in their copy.

A Beijing Evening News reporter read on an online forum that some mothers chose to visit a Hong Kong-based clinic to discover their baby's sex. When she called the clinic, a woman answered the phone, claiming to be an agent and asked the client to provide an ultrasound image demonstrating she's at least seven seven pregnant.

The agent then said she could arrange for the woman to be examined in Hong Kong, or if the woman doesn't want to travel that far, she can fly to Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province to have her blood taken and the agency will organize for the sample to be sent to Hong Kong. The whole process would cost 5,000 yuan ($760).

The agency claimed the accuracy of the test is guaranteed, and sounded impatient.

"We have many clients recently, so if you want to do the test, you have to remit your money now, we'll arrange for the exam according to the order of payment," the agent told Beijing Evening News.

Flying to Hong Kong can mean a lot of hassle and some parents have turned to more local and affordable means, choosing to do a 4-D ultrasound to get a clear picture of their baby. A search on the Groupon coupon website showed many photography studios who claim to have such machines.

"The 4-D ultrasound can automatically take photos and videos of the baby. The technology can help mothers see their babies' actions and facial features," read one advertisement online.

Qin Ruomeng, a Nanjing-based gynecologist, told the Global Times this kind of exam isn't difficult to perform.

Customer service staff told the Beijing Evening News the studio only uses the technology to "take photos" of the baby, usually just their feet or face, and doesn't check for the baby's sex or detect any abnormalities. But an anonymous source told the Beijing Evening News that if you ask the examiner, eventually they'll make a hint, and there's always a way to find out your answer.

A reporter visited a photography studio on the West Fourth Ring Road and found it in a residential compound. When the reporter arrived, two mothers were already waiting in the living room and another was being examined. The room's walls were lined with ultrasound photos of fetuses, mostly close-ups of their feet and heads, with a clear view of their silhouettes and other organs.

While waiting, the two mothers whispered to each other. One asked, "Have you had a maternity check at the hospital yet?" and the other answered, "Yes, but they didn't tell me the results."

When one reporter asked the mother about her experience, she said she paid for an ultrasound that can show the baby's entire body. The reporter asked whether or not she can tell if it's a boy or a girl, the mother replied that the operator wouldn't tell her, but her husband could see very clearly.

Banned by law

The reason that sex selection is never explicitly mentioned in these adverts or by staff working at these facilities is that revealing the sex of an unborn baby is usually illegal. The Population and Family Planning Law says that any sex identification exams done for non-medical reasons are not allowed, and any organization that does such exams for others could face a fine up to 30,000 yuan, have their license revoked and even face jail terms.

The government stepped up measures to prevent illicit sex identification exams recently. Last year, 14 central ministries including health, security and civil affairs released an order that brought forth a series of new ways to prevent medical examinations from being done in secret.

Measures include supervising advertisement for such exams, watching for the transfer of blood samples across China's borders and increasing punishments for illegal activities.

But even with these harsher measures in place, the growth of black market for these services shows no signs of slowing.

Qin, a gynecologist, said that hospitals are prohibited by law from telling parents the sex of their baby, mainly to prevent people from aborting their children, but that doesn't affect people's desire to find out.

"In practice, we receive many requests from parents looking to discover the sex of their child, sometimes even on the side, even though we are not allowed to do it and there's heavy punishment," she said.

The desire for sex identification also provides fertile ground for fraud.

Last week, Taizhou Daily in East China's Zhejiang Province reported that a woman was cheated out of 1,300 yuan because she was fooled into believing an agency could perform the test and transferred the money up front. However, after she paid the money, the agency vanished and stopped answering her phone calls.

Legal experts commented that once these scams happen, it's difficult for patients to protect their rights. Besides, the results from these so-called exam centers are often wrong because they don't have the necessary qualifications.

Beijing Evening News contributed to this story

Newspaper headline: Completing the family

Posted in: In-Depth

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