China's working-age population continued to fall in 2014, the government said on January 20, as Beijing struggles to address a spiralling demographic challenge made worse by its one-child policy (AFP Phoyo/Goh Chai Hin)
China was home to 33 million more men than women in 2014, renewing a long-running controversy over selective abortion, abandoned baby girls, and the country's family planning restrictions, according to government figures released this week.
China's population stood at 1.36 billion at the end of last year, according to official statistics released this week, of whom 700 million are men and 667 million are women.
"The gender ratio at birth is still dangerously high, with 115.88 boys born to every 100 girls in 2014," the official Xinhua news agency reported. The figures compare with a global average of 103 to 107 boys to every 100 girls.
China's gender ratio peaked far above the global average of 107 in 2004 at 121.18, and fell to 115.8 in 2014, the National Health and Family Planning Commission said Wednesday in a statement on its website.
But it warned that the ratio is still higher than in any other country.
"The gender imbalance in [China] is the most serious in the world, and has lasted for the longest period of time and affected the largest number of people," the Commission said.
It said the government plans to crack down further on blood-testing to determine the sex of a fetus, as families continue to send blood samples overseas for testing to circumvent a domestic ban on the practice.
It also reiterated warnings to agencies who make money sending the samples overseas, reminding medical staff that carrying, mailing or transporting blood samples abroad is illegal.
Experts said the gender imbalance in China's population can be traced back to the start of the "one-child policy" during the 1970s.
Gender studies scholar Lu Pin, who edits the online newspaper Women's Voice, said the policy had combined with a preference in Chinese traditional culture for male heirs, whose duty it is to care for their parents in old age.
"The one-child policies actually allow for the gender bias in favor of boys, and, as such, can be said to bear some responsibility for reinforcing it," Lu said.
"In rural areas, the one-child policy was always in effect a 'one-and-a-half child policy,' because couples would be allowed a second child if the first was a girl," she said.
"If the first-born was a boy, then they wouldn't be allowed to have another."
She said the government had colluded with traditional ideas that boys are more valuable than girls.
"We should really reflect on this aspect of our family-planning policies," Lu added.
Cheng Yuan, acting director of the non-governmental Pingji Center in Guangzhou, said the stringent population controls of the past four decades had also ensured that there aren't so many younger people to take care of the country's elderly.
"The one-child policy has caused other problems, too. Namely that of an aging population," Cheng said.
"The burden on [younger] relatives will be much heavier, while the aging problem is more apparent at a time when China's social security and welfare system is far from ideal," she said.
Easing of restrictions
In the first significant easing of the one-child policy in nearly 30 years, Beijing announced at the end of 2013 that couples will be allowed to have two children if one of the parents is an only child.
Previously, most parents were restricted to having one child, although the political and financial elite were able to afford the financial penalties, and often have larger families.
Urban couples were permitted a second child if both parents do not have siblings, while rural couples were allowed to have two children if their first-born was a girl.
But overseas women's rights campaigners say the changes aren't likely to reduce the number of forced abortions and abandoned girl babies, or ease human trafficking in the country, as a growing number of rural men have trouble finding wives.
According to Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of California-based Women's Rights Without Frontiers, allowing couples to have two children if either parent is an only child under a so-called reform of the one-child policy won't end voluntary, sex-selective abortion of baby girls.
Littlejohn has called on Beijing to reduce the numbers of aborted or abandoned girls by providing economic incentives to families giving birth to girls and special compensation to retirement-age couples who have no sons to support them.
And many couples continue to face large fines, seizure of their property and loss of their jobs, as well as forced abortions and sterilizations, and even violent forced evictions by local officials, if they break the rules.
China last year launched pilot drop zones for unwanted infants in 25 major cities last year in a bid to prevent unwanted babies from being left to die on the streets, but many schemes were forced to close after being overwhelmed, mostly by infants with severe disabilities.
Reported by Lin Ping for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia ©2015