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Lack of Social Security Blamed for Gender Imbalance

The basic reason for China's gender imbalance is the country's dissatisfactory social security system, said a Chinese political advisor.


"Things will not turn better unless the elderly, especially those in rural areas, are covered in social security network and no longer have to rely on their children," said Li Weixiong, a researcher with the China Economic and Social Council.


The council is an institution under the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top political advisory body.


Latest statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that China's gender ratio for the newborns reached 119 boys for every 100 girls in 2006, compared with 117:100 in 2000. In some regions, the figure reached 130 boys for every 100 girls.


By 2020, more than 30 million young men would not be able to find wives, said Li.


The preference for boys is especially outstanding in rural areas, where social security is underdeveloped and giving birth to a boy has long been regarded as a preparation for old age.


China saw 144 million people aged over 60 at the end of 2005, 11 percent of the country's total population.


However, Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu, also head of the national work committee on aging, said in February at a national conference that China's current pension system, medical care system and social service sectors can not meet the demands of all senior citizens.


Most of the elderly have very little savings, and pensions, where they exist, are meager.


To finance tomorrow's retirement, they have their hope falling upon their sons, as daughters, who would live with their parents-in-law after marriage, are ultimately "raised for others", Li Weixiong said.


Some people attribute the gender imbalance to the family planning policy formulated in the 1970s which limits most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two.


"It could be a reason, but not a major one," said Ma Li, director of the Chinese Research Center of Population and Development, adding that behind the issue lie some cultural, social and economic reasons.


One is Chinese people's traditional discrimination against women. The failure to leave a male heir was, or still is in some areas, recognized as a moral sin.


The fate of married women in many areas therefore still hangs on their procreation, just like the old saying goes, "bearing a son, silk and cate; bearing a daughter, rag and chaff."


Wang Dazhang who works in a governmental unit called all his acquaintances to share his happiness as soon as he learnt of the birth of his son. "I can tell you our knack of having a boy," he told his friends.


The boy will become a new member in his family tree. "What an honor it is!" he grinned.


Fetus gender testing that leads to sex-selective abortions enlarges the imbalance. A survey by the International Planned Parenthood Federation showed that in rural areas in central China, 70 percent of the aborted infants were girls. Among the 820 polled women one third had at least attempted to make sex-selection for their babies.


Although the test has been officially banned, in some areas the lucrative industry still exists, said Zhou Lizhen, a national legislator from Fengxin County in east China's Jiangxi Province. "It is also dangerous to the testees," she said.


Experts warn that gender imbalance would also generate or intensify a series of social problems, like adultery, prostitution and women trafficking.


In an attempt to halt the growing imbalance, China launched a "care for girls" campaign nationwide in 2000 to promote equality between men and women.


The government has also offered cash incentives to girl-only families in the countryside by prizing the rural couples aged above 60 who only have girls 600 yuan.


To facilitate the life of the aged, the government is giving preferential treatment to people over the age of 70 as part of China's new medical care program.


By the end of 2006, 175 million people have been enrolled in pension plans across China. More than 43.6 million retirees are receiving pensions.


Nursing houses have been built and China currently has 1.5 million beds in various care centers for the elderly. The government says it will add 2.2 million beds for the aged in rural areas and 800,000 for those in cities within the next four years.


Meanwhile, more than 1.35 million people have been benefited from a special subsidy system that grants rural parents aged 60 and older a government subsidy of at least 600 yuan (US$77) annually, if they have only one child, or have two daughters. The subsidy program has been on trial in more than 10 provinces since 2004.


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged in the latest government work report to take a full range of measures to cope with gender imbalance in babies and fully follow the reward and assistance system for rural families that comply with family planning regulations.


Li Weixiong believes that the battle for curbing the gender imbalance is on the right track, although there is still a long way to go.


"Hopefully, a balanced gender ratio in newborn babies can be achieved in ten years," Li said.


(Xinhua News Agency March 8, 2007)

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