Serious woman shortage in China, India, says HRW

In the world’s two most populated countries—China and India—there is a serious woman shortage, Heather Barr, Senior Researcher, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch.

For example, she says, for several decades in China, the most populated country in the world, sex ratios at birth have been much higher than 105, sometimes exceeding 120 boys for every 100 girls.  Many parts of India, the second most populated country, have also, for decades, had a sex ratio at birth significantly higher than 105.

The consequence is that in those countries combined—which together have a population of about 2.73 billion—there are now an estimated 80  million extra men. “Nothing like this has happened in human history,” the Washington Post, wrote in an April 2018 article.

In India, many families used sex-selective abortion to choose boys, prompting the passage of a law that made it illegal to screen for the sex of the fetus and conduct sex-selective abortions. In China, similar decisions were encouraged by the “one-child” policy in place from 1979 to 2015, which prompted many parents to decide that their sole child must be a boy.

HRW says that the common thread is gender discrimination—from garden-variety sexism to practical concerns about sons being more likely to financially support parents in old age and provide grandchildren, while daughters are expected to live with their in-laws—which is hardly unique to China and India. When women lack equal rights and patriarchy is deeply engrained, it is no surprise that parents choose to not to have daughters.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the natural sex ratio at birth is about 105 boys to every 100 girls and its best to have equal numbers of men and women in a society. We need a few extra boys for balance, because men die earlier.

Heather Barr made a strong plea stating that China, India, and other affected countries need to act urgently to mitigate the effects of the woman shortage. They should carefully examine the consequences of the woman shortage, including links to trafficking and other forms of violence against women. More importantly, they need to do much more to tackle the fundamental cause of the demographic imbalance—gender discrimination and the distaste for daughters that it breeds.

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