Fearing the approach of a ticking "bachelor bomb," China is drafting tougher legislation against sex-selective abortions that have boosted the number of boys so dramatically, that newborn boys now outnumber girls eight to five in one city, state media reported yesterday.
The State Council is drafting special regulations that specify punishments for parents and doctors who abort fetuses after discovering they are female, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
Abortions motivated merely by gender are already illegal in China, but existing laws do not describe the applicable punishment for such acts, Xinhua said.
New regulations will define the responsibilities of different government departments in combating the problem, it said, without giving a timetable for the new rules.
The sex ratio among Chinese toddlers is becoming ever more skewed as a direct result of the nation's one-child policy.
Couples that cannot give birth to an unlimited number of children are more likely to abort female fetuses in hopes of having a much-wanted son.
"The root cause is traditional thinking that boys are better than girls, especially in poverty-stricken areas," said Song Jiang, a population expert at Beijing's Renmin University. "Those people expect boys to support the family."
In some parts of the vast country, sex-selective abortions have caused a situation where there are more than three boys for every two girls, Xinhua said in a separate report.
In a particularly striking example, there are 163.5 boys for every 100 girls in the city of Lianyungang in Jiangsu Province, Xinhua said, which means baby boys now outnumber their female counterparts eight to five there.
The data are from the state-controlled China Family Planning Association, which said in a survey that 99 cities had sex ratios higher than 125 boys to 100 girls.
The association's data also said that the entire island of Hainan now had 136 newborn boys for every 100 girls.
Previously published figures showed that the national average in China in 2005 was nearly 119 boys to every 100 girls.
The average global sex ratio at birth is about 105 under "natural" conditions.
Demographers are increasingly warning of the dangers the trend poses to social stability in China.
The greatest worry is the huge army of bachelors that will result, with an estimated 30 million more men than women.
Some argue those numbers of men could become a force for social instability, while others have said they are likely to belong to the most disadvantaged layers of society, and therefore will not be equipped to make much trouble.
Researchers have warned that a high number of frustrated bachelors could raise the risks of anti-social and violent behavior.
Under the one-child policy, introduced in about 1980, China's urban dwellers are allowed one child, while rural families can have two if the first is a girl.
Ruthless enforcement of the regulation has triggered widespread opposition, especially in the countryside where children are valued as additional economic muscle.
Riots have broken out against forced abortions and other measures, such as heavy fines, the destruction of homes and confiscation of property.
However, Chinese Communist Party officials and the rich often ignore the law themselves or pay the necessary fines.
Despite its unpopularity, the policy has been effective in slowing the country's demographic growth.