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China says ignorance of safe sex to blame for 13 million abortions a year

More than 13 million abortions a year – or 1,500 an hour – are carried out in China, data from a government think tank has shown, and a major factor behind the number of unwanted pregnancies is that many young people don't know how to use contraceptives properly.

The figure, from the State Family Planning Commission's Science and Technology Research Institute, is all the more remarkable when you consider that the One Child Policy of population control has been in place for more than three decades, and a central plank of that policy is contraception.

In England and Wales last year there were 189,931 abortions, out of a population of 62.6 million, according to statistics from the Department of Health, while China's 13 million figure applies to a population of 1.34 billion. Comparing the statistics is difficult, because the two countries use different criteria, but in China every year 29.3 women per 1,000 have an abortion, compared with 17.5 per 1,000 in England and Wales.

Professor Wu Shangchun of the Science and Technology Research Institute told China Radio International: "The specific cause is about a half of the people are having sex without contraception, while the rest of the people are using 'safe periods' or external ejaculation as a contraceptive method. People are not sticking to scientifically proven methods, such as condoms. Less than 10 per cent said they use condoms every time."

A recent survey by the condom maker Durex found that only 12 per cent of young people in China say they are familiar with how to use a condom, because of social taboos about sex, fear of embarrassing themselves in front of their peers, or a lack of basic physiological knowledge. A survey by the China Population Communication Centre in 2009 and 2010, which covered more than 10,000 people in six cities – mostly unmarried teenagers – found that 49 per cent had not talked about sex with parents or teachers.

Six million abortions in China every year are carried out on women below the age of 25, most of whom are unmarried. The CRI report said 20 per cent of young women who had premarital sex became pregnant, and 90 per cent of them turned to abortion to end the unplanned pregnancy.

Fan Guangsheng, a doctor at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, said the abortion rate had been rising for a number of years. "The age of sexual maturity for people is earlier nowadays and they usually get married later than before. Therefore, the possibility of premarital sex is raised, and the greater possibility of unplanned pregnancies along with it," Dr Fan said.