China’s Population Problems

Missing Girls and Rapid Aging

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, MAY 22, 2011 ( China is under pressure to change its one-child family planning policy following publication of the latest census figures.

The population increased to 1.34 billion in 2010, compared to 1.27 billion in 2000, the Wall Street Journal reported, April 29. The average annual growth for the last decade was 0.57%, a significant decline over the previous decade’s 1.07%.

The census figures also confirmed the trend toward a rapidly aging population. Those over 60 years of age comprise 13.3% of China’s population, compared to 10.3% in 2000. Meanwhile children under the age of 14 now make up 16.6% of the population, a sharp decrease down from 23% a decade previously.

In a separate article on the census results, the Wall Street Journal looked at the gender imbalance caused by the preference for sons. The male population is now 51.3% of the total, a slight decrease from the level of 51.6% in the 2000.

In spite of the improvement the article noted that there are still 34 million “extra” men, which is not a small number. This is the result of sex selective abortions, facilitated by the use of ultrasound. As well, undesired female babies are frequently abandoned or given up for adoption.

One factor that might help change attitudes towards female babies is the rise in real estate prices. It is customary for the parents of a male child to buy their son an apartment when he marries.

An article dated Nov. 11 edition of the China Daily commented that in cities such as Beijing the gender gap has already narrowed, with 104 boys born for every 100 girls. This compares with national figures of 119.45 boys per 100 girls.

Not enough

When it comes to China’s population the emphasis is usually on the large size, but the recent census revealed that, in fact, the problem may well be the reverse, namely that population growth is too slow.

This was the view taken in The Economist’s report in its May 7 edition. The census data imply that the total number of children a woman will have in her life may now be at only 1.4, well below the level of 2.1 needed to ensure a stable population.

The markedly fewer number of children being born means that the working age population will be under much greater pressure in the future to support the elderly.

The Economist also looked at the longer term consequences of the lack of female babies. In 20-25 years about a fifth of today’s baby boys will not be able to find a bride.

China might grow old before it gets rich, warned the headline of report on the census published by the Guardian newspaper, Apr. 28. As the pool of new workers shrinks China may run out of time to move its factories to less labor intensive and more value added methods.

The Guardian also picked up on another problem brought by government policies. That is, the large size of the nation’s floating population, which increased by 81% in the last decade, to more than 261 million.

Migrating to find work in the factories where the economy is booming does not bring with it the right of residence. The traditional policy of household registration, which was designed to keep the peasants tied to their land, is still in force.

This means that while the factories welcome the migrant workers they don’t have to worry about their health, housing or welfare costs. The workers can be expelled at will and have no access to health services or to schools for their children.

Family planning abuses

China’s population policies also have a long history of abuses. One of the most recent instances was a report that family planning officials are abducting children and selling them for profit overseas.

According to a May 11 report by Australia’s ABC news authorities are investigating accusations that about 20 babies born in the Hunan province in violation of the one-child limit were sold to people in the United States and the Netherlands.

It is alleged that officials in Longhui county received $142 for each child handed over to agencies, which in turn received up to $2,760 for each child put up for adoption overseas.

The ABC also noted that a report published last December by the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) testified to widespread abuses in family planning. This ranged from forced abortions and sterilizations to coerced testing for pregnancy.

In addition, men and women who violated the restrictions on the number of children have been beaten, detained, or fined. Some have even lost their jobs, or were denied household registration permits for their children, according to CHRD.

The problem of abductions was also looked at by the Financial Times, in an article dated Feb. 14. It cited reports of government estimates of up to 20,000 children being trafficked every year.

The destiny of these children varies. Some are used by criminal gangs as street beggars, others are destined for child labor, and many are sold for adoption.

The article cited a recent report in the state media about two people who were condemned to death in the city of Quanzhou for selling 46 baby boys for up to $6,097 each.

According to the Financial Times the government has tried to stop the abductions and two years ago launched a campaign that led to the liberation of 9,300 abducted children, and the arrest of over 17,000 people.

When it comes to forced abortion one case was described in an Associated Press article published last Oct. 21.

Construction worker Luo Yanquan said his wife was forcibly taken from her house on Oct. 10 and detained in a clinic by family planning officials. She was taken to a hospital and injected with a drug that killed her baby.

The event took place just a month before her due date. Officials told the couple they weren’t allowed to have the child because they already have a 9-year-old daughter.


The intense human suffering caused by China’s family planning policies was highlighted in a book published earlier this year. The author, who uses the pen name of Xinran, published a series of testimonies by Chinese mothers titlted, «Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Despair» (Scribner).

Along with the accounts of women forced to abandon or give up their daughters for adoption there, she also described some of her own personal experiences. She recounted how during a visit to a rural village in 1989, she was having dinner in one of the village homes when the daughter-in-law of the homeowner gave birth in the adjoining room.

As the baby girl was born she heard a voice saying «useless thing.» The midwife came out and was paid and shortly after Xinran saw the baby girl in the slops bucket, left to die.

By the end of 2010, more than 120,000 Chinese children had been adopted worldwide, almost all of them girls. What do their birth mothers feel, she asked.  A great emptiness that can never be filled, she replied.

The traditional cultural preference for male children and the ancient system of land distribution that strongly favors males has long meant that girls are not properly valued. The combination of these existing factors with the severe family planning laws has had tragic results indeed.

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