Friday, April 21, 2006

Why Girls Matter

In view of Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit this week, a few people are writing and talking about China's one-child policy.

For example, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) scheduled a hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations to:
...examine China's human rights record, especially such areas as China's censorship of the internet, implementation of the right of Chinese citizens to worship freely, protection of minority rights, compliance with international labor standards, China's barbaric practice of organ harvesting, and the destructive effects on Chinese society - especially on women - of its government's coercive one-child policy. (emphasis added)

Note that the one-child policy and its effect on women ranks sixth in Smith's concerns. I'm always interested in how people prioritize social or scientific causes. How do people decide what causes are worth their time, money or political capital?

Smith goes on to list twenty-one areas of concern in Chinese human rights violations. Forced abortion and sterilization rank tenth, right after electronic surveillance and before media censorship.

Smith is on the right track with his outrage against the unintended consequences of China's one-child policy:
Coercive family-planning policy in China has slaughtered more innocent children than any war in human history. Coercive family planning has wounded Chinese women by the millions and one psychological consequence is that 500 women commit suicide every day. Every Day!

Smith's Congressional voting record is scored 100% by the Christian Coalition so it's no surprise that his outrage focuses on abortion:
China's one-child per couple policy, decreed in 1999, has killed hundreds of million babies by imposing Draconian fines - up to ten times annual salaries - on their parents to force them to abort. Brothers and sisters are illegal.

Although he doesn't mention the killing of infant girls, Smith acknowledges the widespread gender discrimination as it relates to abortion:
Sex selection abortions - a direct consequence of allowing only one baby per couple, has led to gendercide - approximately 100 million girls are missing - in China.

And why is this important? Because:
...forty million Chinese men won't be able to find wives because Beijing's weapon of mass destruction - population control - destroyed the girls. (emphasis obviously added)

From UK's New Statesman article "What if it's a Girl:"
If such trends continue, the future could be nightmarish. In their 2004 book Bare Branches: the security implications of Asia's surplus male population, the political scientists Andrea den Boer and Valerie Hudson argue that the existence of all these millions of frustrated Asian bachelors will boost crime and lawlessness. They speculate that, to find an outlet for the continent's sex-starved males, Asian governments might even need to resort to fomenting wars. (emphasis added)
(New Statesman allows only one free article per day - read the whole thing or bookmark it for tomorrow.)

Valerie Hudson, Brigham Young University, is quoted again in CBS's Sixty Minutes report China: Too Many Men:
In world history, there has never been a bride shortage as large as is about to hit China...When there are more men than women, social instability and crime increases in society. ...Psychologists have talked about what they call the pacifying effect of marriage. Young men who have been pretty extreme criminals - upon marriage - and when the children begin to come, their criminal careers more or less end.

You know that I'm adamantly pro choice. Despite incredible problems that China and the world face as a consequence of overpopulation, China's forced abortion policy is just as wrong as US efforts to prevent abortion. But China's one-child policy forces abortion of second pregnancies regardless of gender. It's cultural pressure that makes people choose to abort first pregnencies if the fetus is female, or even to kill infant girls to get a second chance at having a boy baby.

Maybe we can't agree that there are moral absolutes and devaluing girls is just wrong. But if we have to be stuck in Utilitarianism, could we please look for an intrinsic value of girls beyond pacifying barbarian men?


Ahistoricality said...

That last expert you cited, Valerie Hudson, is wrong: There have been bride shortages in China before, of similar magnitude. The 19th century, for example (and look how badly that went for China) as a result of both male-preference (i.e. some infanticide and differential death in childhood rates) as well as the practice of multiple marriage/concubinage, which meant that some men had several women at their disposal, while many young, poor men had no chance of marriage prospects whatsoever.

There were uprisings, wars, social problems,... everything you'd expect.

Anonymous said...

India is the other side of this coin, this "democratic" place has a girl shortage much, much bigger than China as many homes have 2...boys. In some villages the normal natural ratio of 105 boys/100 girls is so skewed that some villages have no girls ... at all.

Anonymous said...

That last expert you cited, Valerie Hudson, is wrong: There have been bride shortages in China before, of similar magnitude.

The population of China in 1850 was less than half as many as today. Combining the effects of pre-birth ultrasound and the one-child policy, you'll find the 21st century's problem certainly is of a different magnitude, and the resolution will be correspondingly more severe.