A Rush to Rob the Cradle - of Girls
UNDER an expressway overpass on a humid summer evening, saucy tango music resounds above the roar of cars overhead. As couples slink about the makeshift open-air ballroom, clusters of young men peruse the crowd for dance partners - and even, some admit, potential wives.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
''It's hard to meet beautiful and nice women, the kind you would want to marry,'' says one young man. ''For my age, there just aren't that many around.''
China and other countries across Asia are caught in the ''marriage squeeze'' - the growing ranks of bachelors with fading prospects of finding brides. Male woes in China, India, Korea, and Taiwan stem from a scarcity of young, single women caused by an ugly interplay of modern technology, population-reduction pressures, and a near-fanatical desire for sons.
More so than in Africa, the Middle East, and other regions where the status of women is also low, Asia suffers from lopsided birth-sex ratios. Normally, more boys are born than girls, 104 to 107 males for every 100 females, although higher child-mortality rates for boys balance out the numbers as children grow.
But in Asia, demographics abruptly became skewed in the 1980s. The use of abortions spread. Prosperity gave many access to ultrasound and other fetal screening technologies, which are used for sex selection. And the cultural preference for sons has hardened amid government efforts to curb skyrocketing populations.
As couples had fewer children in several Asian countries, the likelihood of aborting a female fetus grew. Also contributing to the tragic demographic imbalance are female infanticide and the abandonment, starvation, and neglect of baby girls.
According to 1992 official figures, 119 boys are born for every 100 girls in China. India has 112 male births for every 100 females. Among more developed countries in the region, 114 boys in South Korea and 110 boys in Taiwan are born for every 100 girls.
''Preference for sons is an attitude endemic throughout Asia,'' says Marcus Feldman, director of Stanford University's Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies in California. ''There's a strong cultural bias against females. It's hard to eradicate.''
China and India have become alarmed by the male-female imbalance. The global population giants account for more than 2 billion people and for one-third of the 92 million people added to the world's population yearly.
Harvard University professor Amartya Sen estimates that more than 100 million women have gone ''missing'' in the world because of prevalent sex-selection practices, more than 80 percent of those in China and India.
Limiting the use of ultrasound
Concerned about predictions of 1 million marriageable men without wives in 20 years and the resulting growing incidence of kidnapped women and prostitution, China banned hospitals in 1993 from using ultrasound scanners to disclose the sex of a child. India followed last year with a law limiting prenatal tests only for diagnosing genetic and other abnormalities. In 1987, South Korea barred fetal-screening for sex identification and, in 1994, strengthened its medical code by threatening to revoke the medical licenses of doctors who disobeyed, steep fines, and even imprisonment.