China's one-child policy spawns secret slaughter: Vast exercise in social engineering proves lethal to millions of girls and puts the population out of balance

MILLIONS of baby girls are believed to have been quietly put to death in China as a result of its rigid 'one-child' policy of population control. In male- dominated rural areas, the pressure to have a son is so strong that girls often disappear shortly after birth, giving parents another chance to ensure their only child is a boy.

Now peasant tradition has found a modern reinforcement - pre-natal scanning. In one rural township where parents have been able to discover the sex of their children in the womb, more than three boys are being born for every two girls. The Communist Party committee in Zaozhuang, in the northern province of Shandong, has warned that officials who have used scanning to detect and abort female babies will be stripped of their posts and membership.

Obtaining evidence of this secret slaughter has never been easy, except for the growing disparity in population statistics. Normally 105 or 106 girls are born for every 100 boys, but the past three censuses in China have recorded more than 110 boys aged 12 months or less for every 100 girls. According to the semi-official China News Service, the gap is far wider in rural areas: newborn boys outnumber girls by an average 144.6 to 100. In Zaozhuang the ratio is 163.8 to 100, an imbalance the agency says is being blamed on pre-natal scanning.

The problem is by no means unique to China. Last week Punjab, where there are only 820 women to every 1,000 men, became the second Indian state after Maharashtra to ban pre- natal sex determination tests, following large-scale abortions of female foetuses. Doctors who abort girls after a test face up to three years in jail under the new law. Britain has no compulsory national guidelines, although the General Medical Council warns that it is unethical to perform abortions on sex grounds except in the case of genetic disorders which are passed on to the next generation only by one sex.

In China, the combined effects of two vast exercises in social engineering are proving lethal to girls. The one-child policy is brutal enough - transgression of it can result in houses being pulled down, peasants being fined a year's wages and heavily pregnant women dragged from their homes at night to be bullied into immediate abortions. Human rights groups say it is also being used to prevent ethnic minorities, who previously had fallen outside its net, becoming a larger proportion of the population.

In Tibet, it is feared that ruthless birth control and the influx of Chinese settlers are making Tibetans a minority within their own borders. But China's rulers are trying to improve the quality of the population as well as limiting the quantity. Theories of eugenics from the 1930s and 1940s, discredited elsewhere, are current: 'Apart from failing to understand the general moral implications of eugenics policies, they seem unaware that scientifically they don't work,' said Frank Dikotter of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. 'You can't improve quality by eliminating so-called 'bad strains'.'

The Prime Minister, Li Peng, showed the official understanding of such matters, however, when he said in 1990: 'Mentally retarded people will give birth to idiotic children.'

Peking last year put forward a draft law on Eugenics and Health Protection 'to avoid new births of inferior quality and heighten the standards of the whole population'. It proposed that those with hepatitis, venereal disease or mental illness should be banned from marrying, pregnant women with 'certain infectious diseases' should be advised to halt the pregnancy, and couples with diseases 'should have themselves sterilised'. The authorities were unapologetic when the bill provoked an international outcry.

Sheila Hillier, Professor of Medical Sociology at London Hospital Medical College, said China had an extensive programme of genetic counselling before marriage, aimed at eliminating inherited disabilities. 'Unfortunately,' she added, 'many people seem to consider being a girl a genetic defect.'

There are already frequent reports of men in parts of rural China complaining of the shortage of marriageable women. One result is the growing incidence of women being kidnapped and sold as brides, an offence for which traffickers have been executed. 'It is an economic problem,' Professor Hillier said. 'Poorer men have trouble finding wives, while those with money can afford more than one.'

But if birth control and eugenics continue to do their work, it is not simply going to be poor peasants who face a lifetime of celibacy. Some projections claim that the Chinese population, which the authorities admit will probably reach 1.2 billion this year and will continue growing at least until 2020, could plunge thereafter to 700 million. It is far more likely, however, that social attitudes will change well before then, even if there is little sign of that happening so far.

'If China is hoping that rising prosperity will encourage people to have fewer children, it had better think again,' said Professor Hillier. 'Demographers are beginning to revise their ideas. It now appears that both above and below a certain band of incomes, people feel they can afford a bigger family.

'Emancipating women, especially raising their educational level, is by far the strongest factor in limiting the number of births. In China it would have the double effect of making girls more valued and stabilising the reproductive capacity of the population as a whole. But it doesn't seem to be grasped as a major policy issue.'

The elimination of baby girls in China, said Gerald Segal of the International Institute of Social Studies, 'challenges the assumption that new technology and greater prosperity always make things better. It depends on all sorts of other factors, such as social attitudes and cultural bias. In China it is making the problem worse, because they are half a generation away from a peasant society.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Co...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager - Part Time

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency based in Ashford, Ke...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Marketing Executive

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent