Gender Discrimination: China’s One-Child Policy

“No society treats its women as well as its men.” That was the conclusion of the United Nation’s Human Development Report in 1997. While the gender gap is wider in some countries than others, it exists everywhere. Unfortunately, the gender gap in China is quite literal as well as societal. Hiding behind the cover of the womb, this inequality may pass unnoticed by many; however, it is an existing problem that requires the attention of all.

The one-child policy of China has resulted in lost opportunity for millions of girls as the rigid traditional preference of male children has consumed the Chinese culture. For the millions of baby girls who never make it past birth or young childhood, all doors are closed. On the bright side, those girls who are able to make it past birth and the first few years of life within a supportive family are able to enjoy mostly equal opportunities to those of their male counterparts. Not only has this quickly reduced the female population in China, but it has led to many negative effects on the country’s society as a whole.

The roots of male-preference lie deep in Chinese culture. For centuries, the bloodline has passed through the male. They are the ones who will take care of their parents in their old age. Women, on the other hand, marry out of the family and will look after their in-laws. For many Chinese parents, a son was, and still is today, confidence in their own future. In the eyes of the parents, a daughter was wasteful; she was just something to be married off and of no benefit to the family. Not only did she provide no return, but a daughter also taxes the family. When married, Chinese tradition mandates a dowry is provided. Many families do not wish to waste their money paying for something that will not provide reciprocated value in the future.

Men, however, spend their lives increasing the “fortune and fame” of the family. From a young age, they work for the family, historically in lush rice paddies all over China, providing another source of income and an extra hand. After spending a youth benefiting the family, an adult man cares for his aging parents, providing a sort of social security that will asset the parents until the day they die. China has long since moved on from the days of elaborate dowries and long hours working in the rice paddies, yet they have held fast to the gender preference of a male child rather than a female child.

Due to the partiality of males over females, China has always had problems with female infanticide. However, after the one-child policy was passed, these rates skyrocketed to an all-time high. Faced with decisions and basing those decisions upon tradition, baby boys quickly won out, resulting in many baby girls that are left unborn or killed quickly after. With the help of ultrasounds, it is very easy for mothers to know the gender of their unborn child. Often, when a mother finds out that she is going to have a girl, she proceeds with an abortion. Those that are not aborted are often killed quickly after birth or left on the street to die.

Horrifying stories of “mothers that are poisoned and given forced abortions, babies that are thrown against walls, smothered or drowned newborns, and infants that are left in the trash to die,” create an emotional shock in viewers and form a sense of urgency that this policy must be changed. Fortunately, some baby girls are found before it is too late and added to the ever increasing supply of orphanages throughout China. While many countries face the challenge of providing living women and men with equality, China struggles with giving women the right to live. When females are not even allowed this simple right, it is impossible for anyone to focus on any bit of gender inequality that exists within life itself.

While initially created to help keep the population under control and improve the quality of life for the Chinese people as a whole, China’s one-child policy has led to an excessive case of gender preference. The discrimination against women in China has created many negative effects of China’s community. Startling statistics shock the public and create awareness of the growing problem: “over 250 million Chinese babies that would have been born never were…and as of now there are 32 million more marriage-age men than women.”

This literal gender gap has created problems throughout society, problems that were not even thought of before the one-child policy was put into action. Kevin Lee begs the mind boggling question: “Imagine living in a society where one out of every four adult men you meet will have never married, and not by choice?” This is a question that causes people to stop and think. How will this change the social and cultural dynamics of China?

If a man has no opportunity to marry a woman from his peer group, then it is possible that he might find someone to marry from a younger generation. At this point, he may have saved up enough money to become more desirable to a young woman and her family. It is already commonplace that men are marrying women that are ten, twenty, or thirty years their junior. Instead of shrinking this imbalance, the one-child policy will only accentuate it as it becomes extremely difficult for men to find a wife within their own age group. The social pressure of a large group of unmarried men may also play into the issue of sexual orientation.

Especially in the world today where “coming out” is finding more acceptance, China might see a rise in the percentage of homosexual people within the country. Large age variation within marriages makes it easy for women to become increasingly seen as “second-hand” to men while in reality it is the huge age difference that is creating a gap, not the issue of gender. The prospect of increased homosexuality can create major shifts in society as tradition moves out and the subculture of the LGBT community is permitted to thrive.

The idea of never being able to find someone to marry can be one of the greatest fears in someone’s life. In China, where society puts great emphasis on progeny, not being able to find a life partner can add to the level of undesirability of males whether at home or at work. Personal anger and frustration may likely accompany these societal pressures. In rural areas, groups of young, uneducated, angry and relatively poor men can cause serious threats to societal stability. With millions of restless bachelors, violence between men when securing brides will increase along with a steep rise in rape. Crime rates will grow, decreasing the safety of the country. Between the violent inclinations of young men and the frustration that can be accompanied with the inability to find a wife, China will become a more dangerous place and society will not be as stable. The one-child policy of China has created a problem that is dragging the community down with it.

Though it might be hard to notice, gender discrimination in China is real and taking place at a time of life when people do not usually think about gender preference. The discrimination against girls before they are even born has created a far greater problem than the initial problem it was intended to solve. As girls are denied the right to even live, the population of China suffers as a whole. Tradition will inevitably change as societal and familial roles differ. The dangers of a large mass of unmarried men will continue to tax China economically and socially until the gender preference of boys over girls ceases to exist. It is only after the Chinese community gives baby girls the chance to live a life that the problems woven throughout society will begin to fade.