The Chinese government has recently eased some of its decades old one-child restrictions. Now, if one or both spouses in a marriage grew up as an only child, they may be permitted to have a second baby.
The new law is intended to address the widespread abortion of female fetuses in a society that favors male babies so highly that a doctor has been arrested for trafficking newborn boys. (After telling the shocked new parents that their children were too ill to survive, or that they were born with congenital conditions unacceptable to most Chinese families, and promising to get rid of the infants’ bodies, the doctor then sold the little boys on to wealthy parents hundreds of miles away. Only the tenacity of one set of deceived parents discovered her crime.)
It’s a nice thought, preventing femicide in the womb by allowing parents two children.
The thing is, it won’t work.
The proof lies to the southwest. In India.
India has no one-child policy. In rural areas, families tend to be large, although girls are still likely to have less food and less care, especially if they have a twin brother. Even though bridal dowry is technically illegal, once girls enter adolescence the payment of dowries occupies the thoughts and finances of many beleaguered families.
Better, the thinking goes, to eliminate the need for dowries by aborting female fetuses.
The Indian middle and upper classes – for whom dowry may not be a concern at all, if they are modernized, Westernized, or simply law-abiding – are already doing this. Among those couples, the ideal family has shrunk from “as many as God wills” through “as many as we have to have in order to get a boy” (making him the youngest child in more than a few families) to its current two children. Both male.
Coincidence? Hardly. Male babies are just as favored in India as in China. Pregnant women are under almost as much pressure there to produce boys. They have the same access as Chinese women to ultrasounds and blood tests to reveal the baby’s sex, and even though abortion for sex-selection purposes is against Indian law, that law is ignored.
Thus, even though Indian women of childbearing age are allowed to have as many children as they and their husbands wish, the de facto result of tradition plus technology plus law-breaking is often a pair of sons.
So, China. You think you can counter your extraordinary problem of skewed female-male birth rates by permitting certain couples to have more than one child, in the face of family pressure and technology? Sorry. It will not be that easy.
You will need to criminalize the abortion of female fetuses, offer extra bonuses to parents of newborn daughters (including ring-fenced admissions to universities), and by a combination of social media and education foster a wave of little girls to counter the current dearth.
You must also make harming them – by murder, rape, kidnapping, assault – a capital crime . . . which would carry the side benefit of eliminating some serial pain creators, mostly male.
Not that this will prevent the gangs and violence that a mostly-male cohort of adolescent and 20-somethings inevitably produces. But bringing your skewed sex ratio back to birth-normal (100 girls to 106 boys) will have knock-on beneficial effects.
Start today. There’s no time to waste.