- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

BEIJING — China has decided not to relax its one-child policy, although a top family planning official acknowledged yesterday that the policy has accelerated the nation’s growing sex gap.

At least 118 boys were born for every 100 girls in 2005, said Zhang Weiqing, minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission. He called the imbalance, which could deprive many Chinese men of spouses in the coming decades, a “very serious challenge for China.”

China reported the ratio as 108-to-100 in 1982 and 111-to-100 in 1990.

The easy availability of ultrasound to determine the sex of an unborn baby has added to the imbalance, as many women choose to abort baby girls in keeping with China’s traditional preference for boys.

“This problem is a reality of country life in China,” Mr. Zhang said. “We have a 2,000-year feudal history that considered men superior to women, that gave boys the right to carry on the family name and allowed men to be emperors while women could not.”

Yet after a review last month, he said, the government decided to maintain the policy, which dates from the late 1970s. It limits urban couples to one child and rural families to two children.

Dropping the restrictions now would risk a population surge as a baby boomer generation born in the early 1980s becomes ready to start families, he said.

Beijing says the one-child policy has helped prevent 400 million births, allowing China to conserve natural resources and contributing to the rapid economic development.

Mr. Zhang said the government has committed to solving the imbalance in 10 to 15 years with education campaigns, punishments for sex-selective abortions, and rewards such as retirement pensions for parents of girls.

In some regions, the figure has hit 130 boys for every 100 girls, while the average for industrialized countries is between 104 and 107 boys for every 100 girls.

China is the world’s most populous nation, with about 1.3 billion people — 20 percent of the global total. The government has pledged to keep the population to fewer than 1.36 billion by 2010 and 1.45 billion by 2020, Mr. Zhang said.

Although popularly called China’s “one-child policy,” the rule limits only 36 percent of the population to having one child, said Wang Guoqing, the commission’s vice director.

Mr. Zhang said the government has begun studying the effect on China of a generation of “only children.”

Since the policy was implemented, nearly 100 million children have been born who will never have siblings.

“China’s only boys and girls are certainly not as scary as some people say, like those who call them ‘little emperors’ or ‘little titans’ who can’t tolerate authority,” Mr. Zhang said.

“As I understand, the majority of them have had a healthy childhood,” he said.

He said they were likely to be better educated and more talented than children from bigger families, because parents expend more resources on them.

“They are much better off than I was, being one of four kids,” said Mr. Zhang, 62. “I envy them.”

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