Even the United Nations, with its dire statistics about the number of babies overpopulating the earth, is now becoming worried about falling fertility rates, gender imbalance, and the projected sharp increase in the proportion of older people in many Asian countries by 2050.  The head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) called for countries to urgently tackle population concerns with “foresight and justice” at the Asian Population Association conference held late last month. The question will be just what the well recognised virtue, ‘justice’, means in practice.

In particular, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director, discussed the newly published analysis by UNFPA which finds that sex selection at birth due to a preference for boys has drastically skewed sex ratios in Asia. The study indicates that if marriage patterns by age and sex remain as they are today, there could be 50 per cent more single men than women trying to marry in China and India by 2030. 

In terms of ‘justice’ what mentality does this show about how we place value on the lives of our children?  Does it not imply that their key function is to work in a family business or support us in our old age – is this not what gives the value of a boy’s life more value?  Obviously government enforced restrictions on the number of children people is the underlying issue which makes these factors relevant at all in the minds of families choosing only to have boys.  In India it is the dowry system which means that families must essentially pay for girls to marry that is the underlying culprit.

Dr Osotimehin identified that due to the “the misuse of technologies and past policies”, China’s one-child policy and cultural preferences for boy children has led to an imbalance that is “getting very serious”.  As an aside one wonders if we will look back in twenty years and say the same thing about the recent decision (28 August) by the European Court of Human Rights that access to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) must be allowed – screening for a lot more than whether someone is a boy or a girl.

DW reports as follows:

The report’s author, Christophe Guilmoto, from the Paris-based Center for Population and Development, told DW that men would face a “marriage squeeze,” in societies where marriage is traditionally expected and that people in lower socio-economic groups would be likely to find it difficult to marry.

“We’re talking several millions of people, millions of men who are unable to marry,” Guimoto said, adding that the trend was already apparent in cities such as Shanghai. According to the report, the demographic changes were also evident in the Chinese Anhui, Fujian and Hainan provinces.

Scary stuff.  However, it is good the United Nations is starting to also realise the negative impacts that so much scaremongering about population growth can have.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...