Saturday, April 11, 2009

Is China Aborting Its Baby Girls?

Today the New York Times reported on a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ)on the imbalance in the the number of boys and girls in China. The study claims that there are 32 million more boys under the age of 20 than girls. The imbalance is attributed to selective abortion of girls in China due to the preference for girls and China's one child policy.

We do know there is a strong preference for girls in China. The New York Times actually did an article last Sunday on boy children being abducted in China and sold to other families there. According to that article, "most of the boys are purchased domestically by families desperate for a male heir, parents of abducted children and some law enforcement officials who have investigated the matter say."

But are girl babies really being aborted in China in large numbers?

We can imagine it might be true because infanticide was common in China in the early 20th century and we do know the orphanages were a substitute for that practice and filled up with girl babies.

But the article says the imbalance is greatest in the rural area and I am skeptical that the ultrasound equipment needed to practice selective abortion is so available in rural areas. One possible alternative explanation is that the people in rural China are still practicing infanticide, waiting for the birth to determine the sex and then leaving female babies out to die.

Alternatively, the ratio may be due to the difference in the the registering of female and male babies. The BMJ study is based on the 2005 census. As I understand it, this reflects registered population. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health ten years ago showed that the excess ratio of boys disappeared when actual household surveys were done.

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