It’s A Man’s World
Skewed Sex Ratios in Asia
I’m going to start by asking a question, what would you want your first child to be? A boy or a girl? For most people this question may spark a little debate but have no serious consequences. For women in Asia, this question has amounted to a loss generation of female births and the wide scale exploitation of women. Several scholarly studies and reports have found that In countries like China and India, reproductive technology such as the ultrasound machine, is being used in a manner that favors a male dominated agenda. A wide scale gender bias towards male heirs has become common in these countries. Through the use of sex selective abortion and population control in some countries, female births are declining, leading towards a skewed sex ratio in many Asian countries, where men are now outnumbering women.
Reporting by author Mara Hvistendahl, found that “in most human populations, the natural sex ratio at birth is around a hundred and five boys for every a hundred girls”. Due to sex selective abortion, “the overall boy-girl birth ratio in China is 121 boys for every 100 girls. In one city, Lianyungang, the ratio was 163 to 100, and in India, the overall ratio was 112 to 100”. Sex selective abortion in Asia had led to an estimated 160 million women that are missing, whom should have been born, according to the natural sex ratio. Along with the discriminatory factors that affect females as a whole in sex selective births, women also suffer greatly as victims of infanticide and sex trafficking. Sex selective practices have also negatively effected males in sex skewed populations. Research has shown that among populations with high male ratios, there tends to be a higher crime rate.
Sex selective abortion is nothing new, the practice dates back to the Roman Empire, where infanticide was used to favor males, “abortion and infanticide were permitted under Roman law at the time of Jesus. Since abortion could not be done according to sex of the child, infanticide was the main way to sex select and the selection was predominantly against girls,” according to researcher Douglas Almond. More evidence of the practice was found in a letter that was dated at around 1 B.C., where a husband instructed his wife to discard their child if it was female, “If you are delivered (before I come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it”. The same social bias that favored sons over daughters during the Roman Empire, can be seen in modern Asian countries.
In China, sex selective abortion emerged on wide scale use starting in 1978, when China introduced its one child policy, restricting married, urban couples to having only one child. The policy was adapted to help alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China, due to its large and growing population. The policy is estimated “to have prevented roughly 250 to 300 million births in China since 1980” according to Hvistendahl. At the center of sex selective abortion in China, is technology, where the wide scale use of tools like ultrasounds has allowed for parents to determine their child’s sex before birth. “Sex determination using ultrasound visualization is the dominant form world-wide” as found in a study by Almond. Through a combination of social traditions that favor males and the use of technology in sex determination. Gender discrimination towards females has become common in Asian countries, contributing to the abortion of millions of female fetuses. The promenade bias towards females in Chinese culture can be best described by a traditional folk saying, where it is “better to have a crippled son than eight healthy daughters.”
Even though countries like China have banned sex determination since 1989, the practice is still widely used, due to poor regulation of the ban. Studies have found, that due to social and economic reasons, a bias towards male over female births has become common in Asian countries, known as “son preference.”
A study by the International Institute for Population Sciences found that in India, “son preference” has become common, due to long standing cultural traditions and economic pressures. The study found that among India’s population, the common view is that “sons are more likely than daughters to provide family labor on the farm or in a family business, earn wages, and support their parents during old age.” Along with the financial resources a son may bring to a family in India, males also bring social class mobility. Due to the male dominated culture in India, “another important advantage of having sons is their sociocultural utility. In the context of India’s patrilineal and patriarchal family system, having one son is imperative for the continuation of the family line, and many sons provide additional status to the family.”
Among the massive effect on unborn female populations in Asia, “sex selective abortion” and “son preference” has also created have a lasting effect on the adult women populations of Asia. Due to the skewed sex ratios created by the declining birth rate of women, Asian countries are experiences a shortage of females to a ever growing male population. According to research by Hvistendahl, the scarcity of females had created a prolific sex trade in Asia. Women are regularly sold into prostitution or as brides to men unable to find wives in their native country, “while the proliferation of prostitutes in China is especially striking, anti-trafficking workers stress that gangs sell women into both sex work and marriage” and “ninety percent of Burmese women trafficked to China end up in forced marriages.”
According to statistical information from The Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, an estimated 1.4 million women are victims of human trafficking in Asia each year, “95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking and 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation.” Sex selective practices also have been found to have a direct effect on crime rates. Studies have found that among sex skewed populations, where the male to female ratio is skewed towards males, there is direct correlation to higher crime rates. Hvistendahl found that “between 1992 and 2004, China’s crime rate nearly doubled” and another report by Valerie Hudson found a “strong correlation between state-level sex ratios and state-level rates of violent crime in India.”
The greatest irony found in sex selective practices in Asian countries is how the use of technologies like the ultrasound, was intended to help save lives. Instead, the technology has actually enabled the systematic loss of an entire generation of women. Through a combination of social discrimination, technology and sexual exploitation, women in Asian countries have been transformed into nothing more than an commodity. They are bought and sold freely into lives of abuse and neglect at the interest of age old traditions and social biases. Something to think about if asked by a nosy in-law or your spouse on what you would prefer your little bundle of joy to be.