Missing Girls

The issue of missing girls is real but perhaps the most difficult of all girls rights issues to address. It has been around for centuries as girls have long been less favored than boys and therefore have been denied nutrition, medical care, and have been neglected or killed when unwanted. The issue has taken on new life now that people have the availability of ultrasound technology to find if they are pregnant with a girl or a boy. Termination of these unwanted girls is particularly pronounced in China (where the one child policy makes people more likely to choose a boy who can care for their parents) and in India.

From the Economist, June 2010:

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China in 2020 will have 30m-40m more men of this age than young women. For comparison, there are 23m boys below the age of 20 in Germany, France and Britain combined and around 40m American boys and young men. So within ten years, China faces the prospect of having the equivalent of the whole young male population of America, or almost twice that of Europe’s three largest countries, with little prospect of marriage, untethered to a home of their own and without the stake in society that marriage and children provide.

Gendercide—to borrow the title of a 1985 book by Mary Anne Warren—is often seen as an unintended consequence of China’s one-child policy, or as a product of poverty or ignorance. But that cannot be the whole story. The surplus of bachelors—called in China guanggun, or “bare branches”— seems to have accelerated between 1990 and 2005, in ways not obviously linked to the one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979. And, as is becoming clear, the war against baby girls is not confined to China.

Parts of India have sex ratios as skewed as anything in its northern neighbour. Other East Asian countries—South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan—have peculiarly high numbers of male births. So, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have former communist countries in the Caucasus and the western Balkans. Even subsets of America’s population are following suit, though not the population as a whole.

The real cause, argues Nick Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC, is not any country’s particular policy but “the fateful collision between overweening son preference, the use of rapidly spreading prenatal sex-determination technology and declining fertility.” These are global trends. And the selective destruction of baby girls is global, too.

What is the solution?

There needs to be a fundamental change in the way girls are valued.  While countries are trying to make laws that limit the use of ultrasound for sex selection, unless girls are valued by their families this issue will continue to be a reality.  Therefore education of girls, their economic empowerment and their political participation must increase to see these trends change.