How to Balance the Gender Scale

In Fuzhou, the local Food and Drug Administration recently began requiring “real name registration” from women who request emergency contraceptives. The registration process will require government identification, phone number, and name disclosure from anyone wanting to purchase the world’s most populous country’s preferred form of birth control. Bloomberg World View blogger Adam Minter posted an in-depth article full of translations from the Chinese blogosphere about the controversial policy:

By far, the most popular form of emergency contraceptive is levonorgestrel, a synthetic hormone designed to be taken in pill form within 72 hours of unprotected sex [...]

[...] If levonorgestrel was the only compound used as an emergency contraceptive in China, the city of Fuzhou may never have issued its now infamous order. But mifepristone — a steroid best known in the West as RU-486 or the “abortion pill” — is also available, in small doses, as an emergency contraceptive without a prescription. The problem, from the government’s point of view, is that women can technically buy enough doses of mifepristone to induce an abortion at home.

Until recently, Chinese women had little reason to do such a thing. Abortion — surgical and drug-induced– is legal, widely available and socially acceptable in China. What is neither acceptable nor legal, however, is sex-selective abortion, that is, aborting an unborn female with the hope of later conceiving a male. Yet the practice is so common it produced a gender ratio in 2010 of 118 boys to 100 girls in China; the natural human ratio is 105 to 100. New genetic tests allow expecting parents to determine the sex of a developing child as early as seven weeks into a pregnancy, the same period within which  mifeprestone is designed to work.

In this week’s episode of 101 East, Al Jazeera examines talk within China of loosening the family planning, or “one-child” policy. China’s gender imbalance – and ultimately selective abortion – is one of the many arguments mentioned for modifying the policy. Transcribed from the video:

Chinese families, like those in other Asian nations, have historically shown a preference for sons who can carry on the family name and support parents in old age. The country has long shown a gender gap of more males born than females. Since the advent of the one-child policy, this imbalance has grown severe. Nationally, there are now about 120 boys born for every 100 girls, and in the countryside the gap is even wider.

Experts predict as many as 30-40 million Chinese men alive today will fail to find a spouse. Some experts blame the gap on sex selective abortions which are illegal in China, but widely practiced. Others believe many families simply do not register first born girls in hopes of having a second chance to have a boy.

For more stories surrounding these topics, see prior CDT coverage of the Chinese gender imbalance or the one-child policy. And, just in case you haven’t had enough Republican primary campaign fodder, see how the one-child policy made it into a recent smear campaign between GOP candidates via Politico.

January 7, 2012 12:36 AM
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Categories: Law, Society