Widening Gender Imbalance In China – Analysis


By Namrata Hasija

Is China left with only ‘half the sky’? This question is being asked both inside and outside China which has 32 million more young men than women. The gender imbalance has augmented over the years; the gender ratio in 1982 was 108:100, 111:100 in 1990, 116:100 in 2000 and 118:100 according to the 2010 census which is above the global average of 105:100. It has been estimated that by 2020 almost 30 million Chinese men will be unable to find brides. Is China’s one child policy to be blamed for this widening gender imbalance? Or has it just played the part of a catalyst in the whole process? One also needs to investigate the consequences of this imbalance on Chinese society and also its influence on the future generation.

This policy was introduced in 1979 soon after the liberalization of the economy in order to control the growing population exempting only ethnic minorities but relaxing some norms for rural couples. It was ruthlessly enforced and officials cite numbers to point to its success – 400 million births averted. The imperative for one child meant that there was room only for the male foetus. Easy access to ultrasound enabled easy gender determination leading to abortions of female foetuses. Unlike India, the laws do not prohibit this practice. The gender ratio is especially skewed in the 1 – 4 age groups standing at 130:100 in some provinces. Another facet is that for the second order births the figures have reached up to 146:100 in rural areas according a Zhejiang University report. Thus, government policies which are meant to enable rural couples to choose their child’s gender has significantly exacerbated the problem. Additionally many unregistered female births are hidden from the authorities to enable a second chance at producing a male heir. This complicates data collection making accurate measurement of the problem impossible.



Resultant social tensions are rife as many men remain unmarried while some purchase brides from Vietnam and other neighbouring countries. The price for a Burmese wife is somewhere between US$ 600 and US$ 2400. Many parts of China are experiencing large scale trafficking of women, increasing sexual violence, baby-trafficking and prostitution. According to the UN Children’s Fund, about 250,000 people were victims of trafficking. Recently a racket was busted in Inner Mongolia where 76 babies were bought for trading in other provinces. Chinese statistics reveal that around 42000 women and children were freed from human traffickers last year. Men are giving advertisements in major newspapers emphasizing on their wealth and begging women to respond to their proposals. Those men who do not have enough money turn to illegal brokers who trick rural women with bogus job offers and sell them to these men. These trends are expected to worsen once the current generation hits a marriageable age. Already there are many bachelor villages in China for example there is one in Banzhushan in Hunan province where there is not even a single unattached women. There have been reports citing examples of young men selling blood to pay for large houses so as to stand a chance in the marriage market. The problem is acute in rural areas such as Hainan Island as reports suggest that the orphanages are filled with girls whereas the classrooms are filled boys.

Government policies for reducing the imbalance:

The government realizes that this is a problem and has taken some half hearted measures. A pilot programme ‘Girl Care Project’ has been started – wherein parents having girls are given income supplements and preferential treatment in health care, employment and housing. Efforts are also being made to encourage more respect for women. Special rewards are given to ‘girl-only’ families and also to people who help crack down on sex-selective abortions. For example, the Fujian government has allocated US$24 million for distribution to households having girls and are also exempted school fees. Many researchers and government officials have called for clearer laws banning sex selective abortions and gender determination tests. China’s deputy health minister had warned of harsh punishment for doctors caught practicing gender selective abortions and tests. Several local governments have also started media campaigns aimed at spreading awareness highlighting the benefits being given to couples having daughters. For example, The People’s daily reported that some couples having daughters were given houses worth $2,300 along a street allotted to this reward scheme. Many officials are also pushing for a two child policy instead of a one child policy for China. The government has initiated pilot projects in few provinces to monitor whether the two child policy will create a baby boom but for the time being has stuck to current policy.

Mostly however these efforts are not yielding the desired results. Even taking into account the unregistered baby girls China still faces a significant gender gap. Provinces with ethnic minorities which were exempt from the one child policy have been found to have normal sex ratios. This strengthens the argument that the one child policy has played the role of a major catalyst in amplifying the gender imbalance in China. Noteworthy here are the efforts of South Korea which faced a similar situation in the 1990s. Strict laws on gender selection and massive public awareness campaigns were resorted to. These focused on the results of the anticipated shortage of brides. Also, there were campaigns to educate rural women not to agree to abort female foetuses. Similar steps could help China – but determination and coordination – that have thus far been lacking are critical to solving the problem.

Namrata Hasija
Research Officer, CRP
email: [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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