China’s Missing Girls: The Hidden Effects

5 Mar

Between 1980 and 2000 it is estimated that 22 million more boys than girls were born in China; and in 2008 in was estimated that there were as many as 120 boys to 100 girls. This has occurred as a direct result of the one child policy that was introduced into the country in 1979. As parents living in urban areas were legally only able to have one child, and the role of males within Chinese society is seen to be of significantly higher status, the prospect of not having a son led to an increase in numbers of sex-selective abortions. However, when looking at China’s history it can be seen there are several negative effects associated with female infanticide. In the 18th Century, during the Qing Dynasty, governments responded to the rising sex rations, which occurred as a result of female infanticide, by encouraging young men to colonize Taiwan. Later in the 19th century, female infanticide as a result of poor economic conditions, led to social unease when the unbalanced cohorts matured and eventually resulted in a rebellion against the Qing Dynasty.


The uneven gender ratio that is found within China, it has been argued, is likely to have significant effects; not only is it expected to lead to increased levels of crime which will undermine the Chinese Governments rule, but it is also likely to affect the way in which China’s political relations with the rest of the world are played out. In short, the infanticide of females as a result of the one-child policy is a ‘geopolitical time bomb’. However the sex ratio can also have a significant impact on individual males. 10.4% of males born between 1980 and 2000 are expected not to marry; in turn this is likely to reduce the economic success of males, and may reduce the levels of care available to them in later years, as they will be without children to support them as they become elderly.


It is also argued that with such drastic sex ratios, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS within China is likely to increase dramatically, as the level of ‘risky heterosexual sex’, particularly via commercial sex, is also likely to increase.  Current statistics show that up to 1 million women have a primary income from commercial sex, whilst another 10 million women are estimated to receive a percentage of income from such practices. It is also argued that many of the women involved in the trade of commercial sex have been illegally trafficked, and forced into prostitution, with many women coming from North Korea.

Studies have shown that young Chinese men are more likely to partake in commercial sex than their US counterparts, and in 2000 it was shown that in the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan HIV rates amongst prostitutes were as high as 11%.


As a result of this growth in commercial sex, and subsequent increase in sexually transmitted diseases, it has been argued that “China’s imbalanced sex ratios have created a population of young, poor, unmarried men of low education who appear to have increased risk of HIV infections.” Although work is increasingly being carried out by the Chinese Government to promote safe sex and reduce the prevalence of HIV infection, if changes to the sex ratio do not occur, the problem is likely to not only be persistent but also worsen over time.


Effects such as the increase in HIV/AIDS and sex commercialisation tend to be overlooked when examining unbalanced gender ratios. Effects such as the decrease in child bearing women, and aging male population and the ‘geopolitical time bomb’ are often discussed in relation to the issues of female infanticide. However by overlooking issues such as the increased prevalence of ‘risky heterosexual activity’ through commercial sex, and the illegal trafficking of women to support this increase, the scope of the social and economic consequences of the sex ratio in China will be underestimated.



Ebenstein, A and Sharygin, E (n.d.) “The Consequences of the ‘Missing Girls’ in China” World Bank [online] source:


With One Child Policy; China’s missing girls:

Ansley,C. and Banister,J. (1994) “Five Decades of Missing Females in China.” Demography 31(3):459–79.


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