"Childproof" Continued...

Issue: "Mayberry no more," July 29, 2006

A September 2005 report by Therese Hesketh, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, confirms regional variation in the sex ratio. In rural provinces like Guangdong, Qinghai, and Anhui, the imbalance can reach 130 boys to every 100 girls.

What happens to the missing girls remains difficult to document. According to demographers like Hesketh, "Sex-selective abortion after ultrasonography undoubtedly accounts for a large proportion of the decline in female births."

Hesketh, Lu, and Xing acknowledge that actual statistics are "impossible to obtain." But while sex-selective abortion is illegal, they say, it is "known to be widely carried out, helped by a burgeoning private sector."

Other Chinese girls born illegally-like Xiao Meimei-may simply go unreported.

Even adjusted for potential underreporting, according to Wang, China's fertility rate is likely 1.5 to 1.6 births per woman (bpw)-well below the replacement rate of 2.1 bpw.

Barring changes to the fertility policy, Wang predicts that China's population will peak within 20 years at 1.37 billion. After the year 2025, the population will begin to shrink.

"At the same time," Wang says, "China's aging process will accelerate, with the share of its population aged 65 and over rising to 14 percent in 2025, 20 percent in 2035, and more than 24 percent in 2050."

Amid growing concern about the aging Chinese work force, the families of Anhui may prove part of the solution.

Despite the risk of discovery, Wong said, Xiao Meimei's parents will probably have another child-making Xiao Meimei a big sister as well.

"They like children," Wong said. "They like boys."


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