Imbalanced sex ratio at birth and female child survival in China: issues and prospects

Type Conference Paper - Watering the neighbour’s garden: the growing demographic female deficit in Asia.
Title Imbalanced sex ratio at birth and female child survival in China: issues and prospects
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2007
With the development of Chinese economy and the implementation
of the current birth control policy, China’s fertility has declined
over the past decades. Intensive son preference and discrimination
against girls have always been a part of its culture throughout Chinese
history. The decline in fertility is paralleled by a concurrent rise in the
sex ratio at birth (abbreviated as SRB) and excess female child mortality
(abbreviated as EFCM) (Das Gupta and Li, 1999; Li et al., 2004),
which lead to the phenomenon of “missing girls”. This not only violates
the rights of survival, participation and development for girl
children, but also produces a dangerously imbalanced sex ratio and
concomitant demographic and social problems that threaten the longterm
stability and sustainable development of Chinese society (Guo
and Deng, 1995; Das Gupta and Li, 1999; Cai and Lavely, 2003; Banister,
2004; Li et al., 2004).
The issue of girl child survival has aroused broad attention from
scholars, the public, Chinese central and provincial governments and
the international community. Since the mid-1980s, many scholars have
reported on this problem. Most studies to date have concentrated on
the reasons for and consequences of high sex ratio at birth (Murphy,
2003, Tian and Gao, 2004), although there are some analyses of the
reasons behind Chinese excess female child mortality (Li and Feldman,
1996; Li and Zhu, 2001; Li et al., 2004). Some authors (Attané, 2004;
Banister, 2004) have pointed out that the girl child survival problem is
a reflection of unequal rights in the first stage of human life, and that
Chinese society needs to improve the well-being of females. The Chinese government in recognizing the problem has promulgated laws and
regulations to protect rights of girls and to improve women’s status. It
has also implemented some pilot programs aimed at the improvement
of the environment for girl children nationwide (Shi, 2005).
This chapter reviews theoretical and empirical research on China’s
girl child survival and analyzes the history and present status of the
survival environment for female children. By comparison with relevant
international experience, it also assesses intervention activities and
policies of the Chinese government and examines prospects for girl
child survival in China.
The data used come mainly from the following sources: census,
official statistics and ad-hoc survey data published by government
bureaus, and results of previous surveys and studies.
Despite the abundant information and relatively high reliability,
most of the data sources are flawed due in large part to underreporting
and misreporting of births and deaths (Banister, 2004). One principal
reason for misreporting births has been to escape punishment as Family
Planning violators (Banister, 1994), but underreporting for girls is
more severe than that for boys (Li et al., 2005). Underreporting, especially
serious underreporting for girls may bring the authenticity of the
reported sex ratio at birth into question. Furthermore, underreporting
of births and deaths of children reduces to some extent the reliability
of reported mortality levels (Li et al., 2005). Statistical data released by
relevant government departments are also problematic. For example,
there are inaccuracies in data issued by the national Family Planning
department (Yu and Wang, 2003), and annual birth statistics released
by the National Population and Family Planning Commission
(NPFPC), the Ministry of Public Security, and the National Statistics
Bureau also diverge.
Some literature argues that underreporting for girl infants and
children is more severe than for boy infants and children (Li et al.,
2005). Other authors claim that there is no sex-selective underreporting
even though the overall data quality is flawed to some extent by
underreporting and inaccurate statistics (Johansson and Arvidsson,
1994), in which case the abnormally high sex ratio at birth and excess
female child mortality are not produced by flawed data, but actually
reflect the facts (Banister, 2004). Sex ratio at birth and female child
mortality are still remarkably divergent from normal even after adjustment
for underreporting and misreporting (Yuan, 2003).

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