Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Far-reaching consequences

One of the things I hauled back from California was a box of my old crap, including a time capsule I put together for an assignment my senior year of high school, other Very Important Things (like my blankie!), and some of my college papers. One of the papers I found was written for an international resources and development class (or something like that) - a discussion of China's one-child policy.

I still remember the research I did for this paper. It was mostly pre-internet, certainly pre-Wikipedia, and to find newspaper articles I had to use microfiche(!) (Yes, Virginia, there was once a time, not too long ago, when you couldn't actually use the internet to find ANYTHING you were looking for.) I spent hours researching and thinking about the one-child policy and its implications for the future. And today, I came across an article discussing the effects from the policy, 30 years on.

In 1979, China implemented a near-blanket policy regarding family size. A given set of parents was only allowed to have one child. Certain exceptions were made for members of specific ethnic groups, or for if the first child was mentally or physically impaired in some fashion. But for the vast majority of the population, for the past 30+ years, you get once child. One kid, who will grow up, get married, and (probably) have one kid. And if you have more than one? The additional kids won't be educated on the state's dime. And if you're a woman who works in a factory, chances are you end up with a forced abortion - or, at least, that's how it worked when I was researching my paper.

But wait! What happens when all those kids who were born in the last 30 years grow up and want to get married? If you're in China, the gender ratio is highly skewed due to traditional beliefs and desires. In China, if you're only going to have one kid, you're likely to want a boy. In China, boys grow up to be men, who have higher status and greater earning potential. In China, male children care for their aging parents, while female children marry into other families. China has a long and storied history of female infanticide, a practice that, while distasteful at the very least, makes sense in the cultural context. The practice continued after the one-child policy was put into effect, and, once ultrasounds with gender-detecting technology became more prevalent, fell by the wayside as many women opted instead to abort their girls rather than bring them to term.

It's quite sad, really, that a policy that was intended to help with population control will have such long-reaching effects. Not only is there a horribly skewed gender ratio of as many as 130 males for every 100 females, but the consequences include millions of men being unable to marry. And women being abducted and trafficked.

Maybe in another 15 or 20 years, when the effects of the one-child policy take full effect, a cultural shift will come about. Girls and women are important, too. I understand China isn't the only place where sex-selective abortion is a problem, but, in my opinion, the fact that it happens anywhere is a problem. Maybe China will realize there's value in girls and women just as much as in boys and men.

1 comment:

Abby said...

This is a really well written post about a really complex issue. It is always fascinating to review those college papers that tended to consume so much of our lives for a brief time but all to often get completely forgotten.