The Chinese government’s attempt to control its population through decades of coercion, fines, forced abortions, pulling homes down, accidentally killing mothers on the operating tables etc etc has been condemned by many throughout the globe (including this on blog repeatedly!) One of the condemnations has focussed on the “war on girls” – the fact that so many girls have been aborted or exposed after birth either because they are the illegal second child or because they are the first but their parents want their only allowed child to be a boy. Such numbers of girls have been killed in this manner that there is a serious sex imbalance in China and millions of men of my generation will never be able to find a wife. (My first ever blogpost on Demography is Destiny was about this issue.) There are reports of bachelor villages growing up, and horrific stores of trafficking in girls from neighbouring countries as forced brides for Chinese men.

But now, according to a report that is making headlines around the world, researchers have “found” many of these “missing girls”. The New Zealand Herald reports that:

“But new research suggests 25 million girls do actually exist after all and didn’t appear on government records because they simply weren’t registered.

The findings raise the possibility that the country’s serious gender imbalance is not as severe as previously believed.”

The researchers believe that because girls were unregistered by their parents, instead of killed, they don’t show up in official figures and census results. Authorities, particularly in rural areas would turn a blind eye to these “unofficial” girls and not report their parents. The report states that there are an extra four million people in China in 2010 than there should be according to the 1990 birth figures. This discrepancy includes one million more girls than boys. If these findings are consistent, then the report’s authors believe that “there are about 25 million women in the statistics that weren’t there at birth”.

It’s important to note that the practice of not reporting children to authorities and hiding them is not a new discovery. Everyone who knows about China’s responses to the one-child policy is familiar with children who exist without “hukou” or household registration. This means that the children have no official existence, no rights to education or welfare and have to depend on the kindness of their family and others to get by. Their chances of marriage are greatly diminished. Thus, even if many millions of girls have been saved by their parents from abortion, their lives are still made a misery by this unjust policy. Further, whatever the numbers of girls who aren’t actually “missing”, there are still large numbers who have been aborted or left to die because of their sex. People at the front lines are still reporting such things today. In short, we should welcome any news that shows that fewer have been killed than first thought, but there is certainly still little to cheer about the one child policy. This report is certainly not a vindication of thirty years of barbaric inhumanity. 

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...