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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK
China's unwanted girls
A boy on a cart, Beijing
Boys are considered much more useful than girls
By Adam Brookes in Beijing

On the garbage dumps that surround Beijing, scavengers from time to time will find a newborn baby girl amid the stinking refuge.

Sometimes she is still alive.

Boys are the best, because they can work

Zhang Hongying, mother
Chen Rong makes her living from scavenging garbage, and over the years she has found five little girls on the tips.

She brought them all home to her one-room brick shack and she and her husband try to give them a chance.

In China, couples are permitted one, at most two, children. Too frequently a girl is a disappointment.

Thrown away

Every year, say researchers, perhaps a million girl foetuses are aborted and tens of thousands of girl babies are abandoned.

Chen Rong
Chen Rong is bringing up five abandoned girls
"One baby died before we even got her home," says Mrs Chen. "Another garbage scavenger had taken her clothes and then left her to die.

"I was the only one who would pick her up. I couldn't bear to see her die.

"Parents shouldn't throw away their children. This shouldn't be happening."

Community pressure

But Chinese society is throwing away its little girls at an astounding rate. For every 100 girls registered at birth, there are now 118 little boys - in other words, nearly one seventh of Chinese girl babies are going missing.

"Some of those girls are alive, they are just not registered," says Professor Zhai Zhenwu, of Beijing's People's University. "Some are abandoned, but many are aborted when the parents find out the foetus is a girl.

Professor Zhai Zhenwu
Professor Zhai Zhenwu: Big problem for China
"This is a huge problem for China. We already have about 20 million boys who will never be able to marry because there aren't enough women.

"That number rises by 1.5 million every year.

"It will bring crime and prostitution. It will destabilise China."

Jhiu Hongying is 19 and pregnant. The pressure on her to produce a boy is huge. Family and community demand it. A boy will bring status. He will continue the family line.

"Boys are the best, because they can work," says the girl's mother, Zhang Hongying. "They're stronger.

"If my daughter has a son, everyone will celebrate.

"All the neighbours want her child to be a boy."

At a Beijing temple, women come to pray that the foetus in their womb is that of a boy. Chinese tradition despises the girl child. This powerful cultural preference for sons is heightened by the one-child policy.

The result - millions of nameless baby girls in China are simply disappearing.

See also:

28 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's population growth 'slowing'
01 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's youth: Shaping the future
25 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China steps up 'one child' policy
12 Oct 99 | World population
Population: Why we should worry
22 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese officials held over baby death
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