This time last year, a report emerged that a Chinese woman from Anhui Province died after her husband pressured her into aborting four pregnancies in a year, because he wanted a son. The couple already had a four-year-old daughter. After the Two-Child Policy was instituted on January 1, 2016, they decided to have a second child, which the husband determined would be a boy. When the woman became ill because of the repeated abortions, her husband divorced her. Soon after, she died.
China’s shift to a two-child policy has not ended the sex-selective abortion of baby girls, especially second daughters. Now, China has an estimated 30-40 million “bare branches” – men who will never find wives and will be unable to reproduce and carry on the family line. This alarming gender imbalance is the driving force behind sexual slavery in China.
This will be true for decades to come. Even if China were to eliminate all coercive birth limitations now, even if cultural son preference were magically to disappear and gender ratios at birth were to normalize going forward, the effects of these changes would not be felt for decades. In the meantime, China suffers under the unique, self-inflicted wound of sex-selective abortion driven by decades of coercive population control.
July 30 marks the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, the annual day to raise awareness of the estimated 21 million people who are victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation globally. 71 percent of these victims are women and girls.
While human trafficking and sexual slavery are global problems, China is unique because it’s One Child Policy has given rise to the greatest gender imbalance in terms of sex ratios at birth. The normal ratio is 105 boys born for every 100 girls born. At its height, China’s sex ratio at birth was 121 boys for every 100 girls. There are an estimated 30 to 40 million more men than women living in China today – so-called “surplus males.”
The State Department’s most recent Trafficking in Persons Report downgraded China to a “Tier 3 Nation,” stating, “The Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so . . . “ China shares this bottom status with North Korea and Sudan.
China needs to step-up its anti-trafficking enforcement efforts to conform with international standards. Its continued refusal to do so raises the dark question: Might the Chinese government be deliberately turning a blind eye to sex trafficking because they depend on it to “service” the 30 to 40 million “surplus males” they have created through the One Child Policy?
The TIP Report accurately states that China’s coercive population control program has combined with cultural son preference to produce a critical gender imbalance:
The Chinese government’s birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons created a skewed sex ratio of 117 boys to 100 girls in China, which observers assert increases the demand for prostitution and for foreign women as brides for Chinese men – both of which may be procured by force or coercion. Women and girls are kidnapped or recruited through a marriage broker and transported to China, where some are subjected to commercial sex or forced labor.
Such a “skewed sex ratio” is only possible through gendercide: the sex-selective abortion or abandonment of baby girls. This form of discrimination – which violently delivers the message that girls do not deserve to live – in turn gives rise to further violence against women and girls: human trafficking and sexual slavery.
This sexual slavery occurs both within China and from the surrounding countries. As described by the TIP Report, within China, women and girls from rural areas are trafficked to urban areas and forced into prostitution. Traffickers use “a combination of fraudulent job offers and coercion by imposing large travel fees, confiscating passports, confining victims, or physically and financially threatening victims to compel their engagement in commercial sex.”
According to the 2017 Report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, women are trafficked into China from neighboring Asian countries, including Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar), Nepal and North Korea “for forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation.” The TIP Report states that, as far away as Africa and South America, women are similarly “promised legitimate jobs and forced into prostitution upon arrival.”
Of special concern is the plight of North Korean women and girls. North Korean refugees escaping possibly the most repressive regime on earth are not given asylum in China. According to the CECC Report, they are instead considered “illegal economic migrants” and are forcibly repatriated, in violation of international refugee law –“despite the fact that repatriated persons face torture, imprisonment, execution, and other inhuman treatment.”
Seventy to 80 percent of refugees from North Korea are women, many of whom are trafficked for forced marriage or sexual exploitation. These victims are completely helpless. They cannot go to the Chinese authorities and report that they are being beaten and raped, because to do so would bring about forcible repatriation and possible execution.
China’s demographic problem is not that it has too many people, but rather that it has too few young people to sustain its rapidly aging elderly population, as well as a critical shortage of girls. China needs to abandon all population control and in fact develop strong incentives for people to have children, especially girls.
Because of the One-Child Policy and continuing coercive population control, hundreds of millions Chinese women have been forcibly aborted, tens of millions of girls have been selectively aborted, and women from within China and throughout the world are being sucked into sexual slavery. China’s One Child Policy has caused more violence against women and girls than any other official policy on earth and any other policy in human history. This is the true war against women.
Women’s Rights Without Frontiers has had significant success through our Save a Girl Campaign, saving baby girls from sex-selective abortion or abandonment, and empowering women to keep their daughters. A fieldworker travels to the woman’s door and greets her with the message that girls are as good as boys, encourages her to stand up to the pressure to abort or abandon her daughter, and provides monthly support for a year. These funds provide practical support. Perhaps more important, they enable the woman to go to her husband or mother-in-law and say, “I can’t abort or abandon this baby girl. She’s a lucky girl – look, she’s already bringing money into the family!” We have saved hundreds of baby girls in Chinese villages with this campaign of direct personal encouragement and support.
It would be effective for the Chinese government to use this model and implement it nationally. This, coupled with greater enforcement of existing laws making sex-selective abortion illegal, would help normalize the gender ratios going forward.
Learn more about WRWF’s Save a Girl Campaign here.
United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2017
Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2017 Report (10/5/17)
China’s One Now Two Child Policy Turns 37: Chinese Woman Dies After Husband Pressures Her to Abort Four Girls in One Year (9/25/17)
World Day Against Trafficking in Persons
China Daily: 30 Million Men to be Wifeless Over Next 30 Years 2/13/17
China: Too Many Men (4/13/06)
Women’s Rights Without Frontiers Save a Girl Campaign