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China: A New Twist on Pro-Choice

August 8, 2008
N. Lukanovich

Reports in the mainstream media on the one child policy in China focus on the lack of brides for the surplus of 25 million boys, sad and lonely boys who have no one to date. I propose polyandry as a possible solution, one woman for many men: "will you take these men as your lawfully wedded husbands?" I think I'll send an outline of the proposal to the CPC (Communist Party of China).

In all the pre-Olympic hubbub about China's human rights violations, the catastrophic results for girls of the one child policy has been virtually ignored, but for a little news doc on the topic by the CBC.

It focused on the high rate of selective abortions (for the mutation of being female), how people get around the new law that forbids doctors to reveal the gender of fetuses with ultrasound (nothing says love like cash), the abandonment of baby girls, the cultural bias towards boys, and the dire consequences of going against the one child policy. But there was no mention of the 'dying rooms' - where things really get ugly.

Almost all Asian countries, except Japan, have unnatural ratios of boys to girls. This is what happens when the birth rate goes down before the culture has shifted its norm of worshipping sons to the detriment of daughters. According to the United Nations Population Fund, there are 60 million missing girls in Asia. Female infanticide has long been a problem in some areas of India, the dowry system placing a huge burden on poor families, but China's become the super power of getting rid of girl babies, before and after birth.

China also wins out on the spin factor: they've got triple spin. The first is cultural and not particular to China: boys are a blessing, girls are a burden. The second is the insistence that the one child policy is terrific and there are no problems with it. The third is that the government claims to be opposed to gender selection. Sorry, quadruple spin, the fourth is that the dying rooms never existed.

But China and India, along with several other countries opposed a resolution at the U.N.'s Commission on the Status of Women to eliminate female infanticide. What gives? Was it because the issue of prenatal sex selection was included, or because the resolution was sponsored by the United States? Why would any nation oppose a resolution to eliminate female infanticide?

In rural areas, parents are allowed to propagate a second time if the first is a girl, no doubt to help keep hope alive after such a monumental tragedy. This shows the government has sympathy for such an affliction. Those who insist on needing a son claim that girls are weak and can not help out on the farm, or go work in the city to make money. This is a bizarre claim, since the real problem is the tradition of a married daughter leaving to live with her husband's family, thereby working in their fields, whereas a son stays home and brings a new worker into the family.

Women also work in cities in China, in factories, as teachers, in all manner of jobs, sometimes 7 days a week. The real deal is that traditional Chinese are more patriarchal, like traditional people in any nation, and they want a BOY come hell or high water, rather than contemplate a change in tradition. If it's a boy there's a banquet, and if it's a girl there's great disappointment.

The rate of abortion in China must be a nightmare to the pro-life brigade. While I am normally irritated by this bunch of self righteous do-gooders, the use of abortion for prenatal prevention of having a girl makes me feel a little pro-life myself.

Rushing to an abortion, even late term, because the fetus is female puts a whole new twist on pro-choice. This is choosing, rather late in the game, to have an abortion because of the gender of the child, not choosing to have an abortion because you are too young, or too poor, or already have too many, or you're pregnant with conjoined twins, or you were raped, or you will just plain lose your mind and be a terrible mother if you bear that child.

This is making a choice based on pressure from society and family to bear a son. It is a choice that is not meant to help women, but in fact victimizes women. It is, however, better than infanticide, the rates of which went up in China prior to the broad availability of ultrasound.

But even worse, in terms of human suffering, are the dying rooms that China denies exist or ever existed. The hardest topics to write about, or read about, are abuses towards children. Two years after the South China Morning Post gave evidence of the existence of dying rooms (one orphanage in Guangxi said that 90% of the 50 or so girls that come to them every month would die), a British documentary team filmed The Dying Rooms, broadcast in l995, directed and produced by Brian Woods and Kate Blewett.

This harrowing documentary shows evidence of girls tied to benches all day long with buckets placed under holes in the benches for urine and feces, babies lying in their feces with scab encrusted faces, a listless girl with a vacant stare and a leg full of gangrene. The dying rooms are the rooms in orphanages where the extremely ill go and wait for death. Brian Woods and Kate Blewett returned to China a year later to film Return to the Dying Rooms exposing once again the systematic neglect and inhuman treatment of girls in state-run orphanages.

China has done something to improve the lives of some of these girls, which was to relax the rules for international adoptions. This does not solve the problem of attitudes towards daughters, which are in any case changing amongst urban educated Chinese, but the lives of many thousands of girls have been saved by the change in adoption policy.

But thousands more are being traded on the black market. Ten years after filming Return to the Dying Rooms, Brian Woods and Kate Blewett produced China's Stolen Children, directed by Jezza Neumann. It is estimated that 70,000 children are being sold on the black market every year, infant girls being sold for a little as 400 dollars, boys are stolen and then sold.

The government is planning to go full steam ahead with the one child policy till at least 2050, and publicly admit to only one drawback: the lack of brides for young men. There are now slogans on billboards around the countryside stating that girls are as good as boys to encourage the birth of girls (for boys). But if the government wants to put some substance behind these slogans, it can start by demonstrating that the powerful in China treat and respect girls as well as boys, and protects them from any and all harm related to beliefs that boys are more important.

For those of us on the outside of China, the decimation of the female population is a reminder that patriarchal beliefs, even without the backing of religious dogma, can be so entrenched that assault on the most vulnerable is seen by many to be acceptable, even necessary.

For information on the film The Dying Rooms, go to Britian's Channel 4 website: http://www.channel4.com/fourdocs/archive/the_dying_room.html

For information on the film China's Stolen Children, go to HBO Documentary Films: http://www.hbo.com/docs/docuseries/chinasstolenchildren/index.html

Last week's COMMENTS:

re: Getting Stoned in Iran
Thank you for your heartrending account of an atrocity which should not be happening for any reason anywhere on Earth.

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Text and Images: Property of Natasha J. Lukanovich or contributors - Writers and Artists as Named