Category Archives: Abortion

100,000 Missing Women – Part 1

SEOUL—A cultural preference for male children has cost Asia dearly. Count up all the girls who were never born because of selective abortion, victims of infanticide and females who died from neglect and there are upwards of 100 million women missing on the continent today by some estimates.

Not just a human-rights catastrophe, it is also a looming demographic disaster. With Asian birthrates already plummeting, that is tens of millions of women who will never be mothers. The economic and social impact on some of the world’s largest countries is incalculable.

For decades, South Korea was Exhibit A in this depressing trend. By 1990, as medical advances made prenatal sex selection routine, the ratio of male-to-female babies soared in South Korea to the world’s highest, at 116.5 males for every 100 females.

There are some hopeful signs. The imbalance in China and India at birth appeared to peak at the end of last decade and has started moving toward normal levels.
There are some hopeful signs. The imbalance in China and India at birth appeared to peak at the end of last decade and has started moving toward normal levels.

Then something unusual happened. South Korea did a U-turn.

In one generation, South Korea has gone from a society where sons are prized to one where daughters are just as eagerly received. Turbocharged industrialization, urbanization and education, along with a feminist revolt, wiped out centuries-old practices in which a son was essential to inherit property, worship ancestors, care for parents and continue the family lineage.

By last year, the country’s gender ratio had recovered to a normal 105 males born for every 100 females.

The dramatic transformation offers important lessons for Asian giants China and India—one-third of humanity that continues to give birth to significantly more males.

China and India have recently taken action to reduce sex selection of fetuses and to pass laws to promote gender equality.
China and India have recently taken action to reduce sex selection of fetuses and to pass laws to promote gender equality.

In these countries that together hold 2.7 billion people, vast numbers of men won’t be able to find brides in the coming decades, obliterating universal marriage, the underpinning of socioeconomic organization for centuries.

Having so many unattached, alienated men could have potentially devastating economic and social consequences. Some social scientists fear that incidences of rape and bride trafficking in parts of Asia could be early effects of the skewed sex ratios here.

One study by Lena Edlund at Columbia University and others suggested a causal link between a more masculine sex ratio and crime, analyzing province level crime data in China to show that a single point rise in the sex ratio of men aged 16 to 25 raised property and violent crime by between 5% and 6%. China has seen a dramatic increase in crime between 1992 and 2004, and the Columbia study attributed as much as one third of that rise to the increase in the maleness of the young adult population. The theory, in part: Unmarried men are more likely to commit crimes than married men, especially as they try to accumulate assets to compete for scarce brides.

“I don’t see any good consequences—I see only misery and desolation,” says Christophe Z. Guilmoto, a demographer at the French Research Institute for Development in Paris.

The intellectual debate over this misalignment has a long history. In 1990, Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist, shocked the world with an article in the New York Review of Books that estimated there were 100 million missing women because of discrimination.

Since then, demographers have devised more precise methods of calculating missing women in each country. They factor in the toll caused by malnutrition and poor medical care and, more significantly, also the numbers lost to abortions of female fetuses, a problem recognized in the years after Dr. Sen wrote his article.

In June of 2015, the Population Council, a New York City-based research organization, published a study saying there were 88 million missing women world-wide in 1990, when Mr. Sen wrote his article, and that there were 126 million missing in 2010, roughly half of them attributable to prenatal sex selection. Of those, more than 112 million were in Asia.

Imagine each figure represents 100,000 women. If you count up all the girls who were never born because of selective abortion, victims of infanticide and females who died from neglect, in 2050 the world will be missing 142 million women, mostly from China and India.
Imagine each figure represents 100,000 women. If you count up all the girls who were never born because of selective abortion, victims of infanticide and females who died from neglect, in 2050 the world will be missing 142 million women, mostly from China and India.

The paper, by John Bongaarts, a distinguished scholar at the Population Council, and Dr. Guilmoto, projects an increase to 150 million missing by 2035 and then a slight decrease to 142 million by 2050.

Across Asia, the effects are only beginning to be felt as the first generation born with skewed sex ratios in the 1980s and 1990s reaches marriageable age.

In Korea, nearly 10% of marriages in 2005 were made up of a Korean husband and a foreign wife, mostly from China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

But as the marriage squeeze worsens in the next few decades, no amount of bride migration will be able to stem the shortfall, demographers say.

The problem will “intensify radically in the next five years and become explosive in the next decade,” says Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist and demographer at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who studies sex ratios.

If the masculine sex ratios remain as high, in China, there would be as many as 186 single men for every 100 single women hoping to marry by midcentury, according to Dr. Guilmoto, since unmarried men from one year join the next year’s group seeking wives. By 2060 in India, the peak could be higher: 191 men for each 100 women.


100,000 Missing Women – Part 2

WSJ 11/28/2015

Somvir Sain, 38, a driver for a politician in Haryana, a north Indian state with one of the country’s highest sex ratios, has been looking for a wife for 12 years, but in vain. Neither he nor his three brothers have found brides, he says. He has even traveled to several nearby poorer states to try to buy a bride, a common practice, but couldn’t settle on a price and arrangement, he says. Prices ranged from about $400 to $1,500, he says. He offered the lower end of the range but no family accepted. Most wanted him to stay for a few weeks to get to know them, and he says he didn’t have enough vacation time.

“I feel badly for my mother who has to do all of the housework and wash all of my clothes at her age because I can’t find a wife,” he says. “I feel sad thinking of never having children and my family not continuing after me.” Mr. Sain with his mother, Shanti Sain, and his brother Danand Sain, who also is looking for a wife. Mr. Sain with his mother, Shanti Sain, and his brother Danand Sain, who also is looking for a wife. Photo: Vivek Singh for The Wall Street

At the same time, educated, affluent women in Asian nations such as South Korea, Singapore and Japan choose to take what is being called a “flight from marriage,” by remaining single or in unofficial relationships. In much of Asia, the social stigma remains strong against having children outside of marriage, and so staying single almost always means staying childless.

Both China and India have acknowledged the need for action. India has strengthened laws against sex detection of fetuses and enacted legislation aimed at gender equality. In China, the government in 2000 began developing a nationwide program called Care for Girls Campaign. It offered financial incentives to couples with daughters and clamped down on sex detection of fetuses during the second pregnancy, in which female feticide was more common, according to demographers.

Just last month, China announced it was abandoning its one-child policy, believed to be a significant contributor to skewed ratios.

There are some hopeful signs. In China, the ratio of male to female babies, rising in three decades to 120 males for every 100 female babies in 2008, has plateaued or declined slightly since. The sex ratio was 115.9 last year, the lowest it has been since 2001.

It is the same with Indian states with the worst sex ratios. Haryana’s sex ratio of 122 boys for each 100 girls in 2001 fell to about 120 in 2011, the most recent census. India calculates sex ratios from birth to 6 years old.
Still, bringing about change is “a slower process in China. It’s even slower in India,” notes Monica Das Gupta, an ex-demographer at the World Bank now at the University of Maryland. Both countries are much larger and more diverse than South Korea.

Even if the sex ratio at birth were to return to normal, hundreds of millions of Asian men will still remain single in the ensuing decades. More than 21% of Chinese men would still be unmarried at 50 in 2070, while in India the number would be nearly 15%, Dr. Guilmoto estimates.


100,000 Missing Women – Part 3

My wife suggested the following book as another good resource.

Book Cover

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Half the sky : turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide / Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Kristof, Nicholas D., 1959-
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2009.
362.8309 Kri

WSJ 11/28/2015

For many decades, South Korea’s demographic trajectory was similarly grim. A military dictatorship that ruled from 1961 to 1987 preaching economic development helped transform the nation from mostly rural and agrarian to mostly urban and industrial. Fertility levels plunged and education levels soared.

Even so, Confucian cultural practices, codified into law, dictated that the eldest son inherited most of the family property, worshiped ancestors and continued the family lineage. This meant that even the newly educated, smaller urban families still felt the need to have a son.

So they rapidly adopted ultrasound imaging when it became widely available here in the 1980s, to detect the sex of the fetus—and aborted females.

“When a patient knew she was going to have a second girl, she cried,” says Dr. Kim Ahm, a 60-year-old gynecologist at Asan Medical Center. “When you told her she was having a third daughter, the patient really panicked.”

These women went on to abort the fetuses, hoping for a son instead, Dr. Kim said.

Abortions of female fetuses became particularly commonplace if families already had one or two daughters. By 1990, the sex ratio for a third child had risen to 193 boys for each 100 girls.

By then, Korea had held its first democratic elections. Free from military dictatorship, the feminist rebellion, already brewing, was unleashed.

The government strengthened a medical law banning the sex detection of a fetus by yanking the medical license of offending doctors. In the early 1990s, the government added a jail sentence for errant doctors.

After reaching a high of 116.5 males born for every 100 females in 1990, the sex ratios began declining, although they were still well above normal.

Feminist groups worked the media, the legislature and the courts, demanding gender equality.

KoEun Kwang-soon, a Korean traditional-medicine doctor, says she was radicalized seeing the roots of the sex ratio-problem in her practice, where she was asked “too many times to make medicines that help a patient conceive a boy.”

In 1997, Ms. KoEun helped launch a campaign for allowing families to use either the mother’s or the father’s family name, instead of always the father’s. The campaign had more symbolic than practical impact, driving home the idea that girls were important too.

“People thought we were a bunch of crazy women,” she says.

The next year, she helped found the Citizens Association Working to Abolish Hojuje, the practice of fathers being considered the legal head of the family.

Legislators seemed supportive of abolishing the practice in private, but backed off from moving publicly because of “opposition in their constituencies,” says Kwak Bae-hee, president of the Korea Legal Aid Center for Family Relations.

Her group turned to the courts. In 2005, Korea’s Constitutional Court ruled Hojuje violated the constitution granting all citizens dignity and equality. Soon after, the court ruled that families didn’t have to take the father’s name.

With the end of Hojuje, “sons were no longer key to the family lineage continuing,” says Lee Ki-soon, the director general at the women’s policy bureau of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

In South Korea, the sex ratio had fallen to 110 males for every 100 female babies by 2005. Five years later, it dipped to 107, and last year, for the first time in recent history, it reached the natural level of 105. That is on par with the ratio in the U.S. and Europe, where the slight excess of boys is believed to be nature’s way of accommodating their higher fragility.

It isn’t that the sexes are economically equal. Even though Koreans elected their first woman president, corporate and political leadership is still predominantly male. South Korea ranked 125th out of 142 countries for income equality between men and women, according to the Gender Gap Index 2014 published by the World Economic Forum.

But for women and men starting families, the idea that it is an imperative to have a son has changed.

“I see no one crying these days about the baby being a girl,” says Dr. Kim, the gynecologist.

Where more than 40% of mothers said in a government survey in 1991 that they should bear a son, only about 8% did so in a 2012 questionnaire.

That change is reflected in the experiences of 64-year-old Lim Ki-ouk and her daughter, both the eldest children in their families, both university lecturers and both mothers who gave birth only to daughters.

Lim Ki-ouk and her daughter

Ms. Lim, top right, with her daughters and granddaughters in Seoul Forest, says she once saw herself as a failure for only having daughters, but now she is envied.

With each of her four daughters, the mother says, she felt she had again “failed to continue the family line.” By contrast, when her daughter gave birth to three girls, a cranky uncle-in-law who dared suggest she keep trying for a son was scolded into apologizing.

“That’s how much South Korea has changed,” the daughter, Ko Bo-min, 38, said in a recent interview, squeezing the hand of her mother, seated across the table at a trendy cafe in Seoul.

Ms. Ko works as a college lecturer and researcher. Her husband doesn’t expect her to carry the double load of child-raising and work—he agreed they should pay for a baby-sitter who also helps with housekeeping.

Her mother interrupts. There was no such husband support when she worked as a university lecturer while raising her four daughters. Life was difficult, she says, because child care and housework also fell to her.

The Korean government has played a role in this transformation. It subsidizes the cost of child care at home, paying up to $177 a month for the first five years of a child’s life.

The government also offers incentives to companies for having paternity-leave policies that are more generous than maternity benefits. Local governments are organizing cooking classes and housekeeping courses for dads.

In this new era, Mrs. Lim, who once saw herself as a failure, now is envied. Quoting a new Korean saying that having two daughters gets you a gold medal, she gestures toward her orange-beaded neckline, smiles and says: “Now my friends say: ‘You get the diamond medal.’”