March 14th, 2011
05:38 PM ET
A preference for sons in some Asian countries has been well documented for centuries. Now a study suggests the practice has led to significant imbalances in the male/female population in China, South Korea and India that could have long-lasting implications.
According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, over the next 20 years, this practice will lead to an excess of males—between 10%-20% in large parts of China and India.
The sex ratio at birth (SRB)—the number of boys born to every 100 girls—is typically 105 males to 100 females. But since the 1980s, the availability of ultrasound technology has spurred sex selection, particularly in countries where males are highly prized.
South Korea was the first to report a high SRB due to sex selection.
Researchers say in China, the one-child policy has contributed to the
“In 2005 in China, it was estimated that 1.1 million excess males were born across the country and that the number of males under the age of 20 years exceeded the number of females by around 32 million,” said Therese Hesketh, study author and professor, UCL Centre for International Health and Development, London, United Kingdom.
In rural areas of China where a second child is permitted if the first born is a girl, the use of sex-selection abortion to make sure the second child was a boy is common.
The problem with all this researchers say, is that there can be consequences to an imbalanced sex ratio. Many of these men will not marry or have children in a society where marriage is universal. These men, researchers say, may be psychologically vulnerable and prone to depression, aggressive behavior and violence.
Solutions to the problem, researchers say begin with government-led public education campaigns, reducing sex selection and addressing the long-standing attitudes of son preference. They say while this won’t help reduce the current imbalances, it will help future generations.
These campaigns have led to some reductions in SRBs in South Korea and China. “However, these incipient decline will not filter through to the reproductive age group for another two decades, and the SRBs in these countries remain high,” Hesketh said. “It is likely to be several decades before the SRB in countries like India and China are within normal limits.”
And while China, India and South Korea all have laws that now prohibit fetal sex determination and sex-selective abortions, only South Korea, the study says, strongly enforces that law.
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