It has taken 20 years,
but gendercide has finally made the front page of The Economist. Back in 1990,
Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen wrote an astonishing article in the New York Review of Books
claiming that 100 million girls had been aborted because of son-preference.
This was happening mostly in China and India, but also in other Asian
Some were initially
sceptical of Sen’s allegations, and countered that the gigantic gender gap
could be due to a higher rate of Hepatitis B amongst infant girls. But as the
figures came in, there could be no doubt. A perfect storm of malign factors has
created conditions in which girls are being aborted in the millions:
son-preference, families with only one or two children, readily available
abortion, and portable ultrasound equipment. As a result, the natural birth
ratio of boys to girls – about 105 to 100. But in China and northern India, the
ratio is now about 120 to 100. In some Chinese provinces the ratio is 130 to
100. In some places, the ratio for a third child has reached an incredible 200
Even The Economist,
which vigorously champions “legal, safe, and rare” abortion, is dismayed at
this appalling gendercide. “The cumulative consequence for societies of such
individual actions is catastrophic,” it
says in its editorial.
The most obvious of
these is a huge surplus of young men who will never find brides. Governments
are worried about how to cope with an army of restless young men who are unable
to fulfil their fundamental aspiration to have a family.
“China alone stands to
have as many unmarried young men—“bare branches”, as they are known—as the
entire population of young men in America. In any country rootless young males
spell trouble; in Asian societies, where marriage and children are the
recognised routes into society, single men are almost like outlaws. Crime
rates, bride trafficking, sexual violence, even female suicide rates are all
rising and will rise further as the lopsided generations reach their maturity.”
The problem is not
confined to China and India. Statistics from Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea,
the Western Balkans and Caucasus show similar trends. Even in the United
States, the ratio of boys to girls is abnormally high among Chinese and
Japanese Americans. And curiously, it is not a problem of poverty but of
wealth. Gender ratios in India are highest in the wealthier regions.
What is to be done?
The Economist ventures a few timid solutions. But they fail to strike at the
heart of the matter because of its commitment to abortion as a basic right:
“All countries need to raise the value of
girls. They should encourage female education; abolish laws and customs that
prevent daughters inheriting property; make examples of hospitals and clinics
with impossible sex ratios; get women engaged in public life—using everything
from television newsreaders to women traffic police.”
Will any of these really change a
preference for sons which has existed for thousands of years? Will they change
social pressure for small families? Will they stop the greed of abortion
Banning abortion, encouraging larger
families, and fostering a deep sense of inviolable dignity of every single
human being are the only strategies which will be successful. But these are
long-term solutions. How about jailing doctors who participate in gendercide?
How about boycotting companies which sell portable ultrasound machines to
doctors who use them to do abortions?
But the Economist’s article on gendercide
is one of the best ever written on the topic. It’s required reading.