Got news? China’s missing girls

Every now and then, a story that I have followed for years and filed over in category A gets connected in some completely logical way with another important story that I have filed in category B and, suddenly, I am shocked to discover something new — a major story in category C.

I think the Washington Times just printed a perfect example of this phenomenon. It will be interesting to see if anyone follows up on this story.

The story in category A: China’s one-child-per-couple policy, which has long been the subject of passionate protest by religious activists. When combined with that society’s prejudice in favor of male children, you end up with a powerful form of sexism that results in the abortion of millions of unborn children who happen to be female. Of course, there are also secular human-rights activists — feminists, even — who are concerned about this issue.

The story in category B: The growing global concern about the sexual trafficking of young people, mostly girls, in what amounts to a new form of slavery. Once again, this issue has inspired activism in a wide variety of religious groups and in secular human-rights circles, as well.

And the story in category C? Here is the top of Cheryl Wetzstein’s report:

When Chinese officials created the country’s one-child-per-couple policy in 1978, they intended to contain the country’s burgeoning population for the sake of economic growth, national security and environmental preservation.

But Chinese boys now outnumber Chinese girls by the millions, and the impact of the lopsided sex imbalance is starting to spill beyond China’s borders.

This phenomenon of “missing girls” has turned China into “a giant magnet” for human traffickers, who lure or kidnap women and sell them — even multiple times — into forced marriages or the commercial sex trade, says Ambassador Mark Lagon, who oversaw human rights issues at the State Department during the administration of President George W. Bush.

“The impact is obvious. It’s creating a ‘Wild West’ sex industry in China,” Mr. Lagon said.

In China, “an entire nation of women” is missing because they were aborted before they were born, said Reggie Littlejohn, founder of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, a nonprofit anti-sex slavery group. “This is gendercide.”

The story connects the dots between statistics from a variety of different, starting with the prediction by the official Chinese Academy of Social Services that, by 2020, at least 24 million Chinese men might not be able to find brides. Wetzstein notes that “previous estimates put that number in the 30 million to 50 million range.”

But the Chinese traditions favoring male children are deep — even ancient.

Chinese parents believe they must have a son to carry their family name, inherit family properties, support them in their old age and host their funeral ceremonies. Tradition says children belong to their father’s lineages, and daughters become part of their husband’s families.

Because of these ancient beliefs, China’s one-child policy forces couples to choose between “their future retirement and the lives of their daughters,” said Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, a nonprofit pro-life group who has been tracking the one-child policy since the late 1980s.

What is the religion hook in this story?

In a way there is none, other than the high-profile role that religious groups have played in protesting both the one-child policy in China and weak efforts by governments worldwide to fight the rising tide of sexual trafficking. Of course, issue of abortion — government-mandated abortions — looms over the debates about the actions of the Chinese government.

In other words, while all three of these hellish stories are rooted in concerns about basic human rights, they are often portrayed as “conservative” issues or even “evangelical” issues because so many religious conservatives are involved in efforts to combat these abuses. Thus, I have topped this post with one of our “Got news?” headlines.

But this could change, because the movement to fight sexual trafficking is broadening. The U.S. government is also quietly concerned about the situation in China.

… (The) most immediate and horrifying consequence of China’s “missing girls” is that it is fueling a growing trade in human beings, especially girls and women, say those who are fighting it.

The State Department’s 2009 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report downgraded China to its Tier 2 “watch list,” because it is a “source, transit, and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.”

While women from many countries are being captured or trafficked into China, North Korean women are especially vulnerable. … If North Korean women protest or try to flee their forced marriages or prostitution houses, they can be “repatriated” to North Korea, said Mr. Lagon. Upon their return, they are treated like criminals and are likely to be beaten, imprisoned or killed, he said.

Laura Lederer, a former State Department official who now is part of Global Centurion, a nonprofit group fighting sex slavery, said that the sex imbalance in China is leading to a “new tsunami of demand.”

Stay tuned and, by all means, please watch for coverage in other newspapers and wire services.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    I’ve read aspects of this story, but not stitched together the way you’ve done here. The religious aspects of the Chinese attitudes toward women should receive more attention. For example, http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Writings/Women.htm discusses how traditional Chinese religion reinforced the Chinese version of women’s role as “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” (children, kitchen church).

    So besides the specifics in China, this area offers another view into how religion and culture interact. The Chinese example can be put alongside the Islamic view and, in fact, traditional Christian views of the inferiority of women.

  • MJBubba

    I have seen this story covered in Christian niche media for over fifteen years. I con’t know why the mainstream would be so slow to notice.

  • http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com Karen Vaughan

    I would like to see more from the point of view of the single men and the trafficked women. What are the attitudes of young men unlikely to marry and start families? What effect do they have on Chinese society? Do they look to marry overseas women? How has the gender disparity affected the official religious/political ideologies?

    When I was studying in Beijing, the only place I saw appreciable concentrations of young men was in the local internet cafes where tiny side by side carrels of young men played endless video games. Where do they go? Is prostitution primarily in large cities or has it affected rural areas? The article is quite theoretical, and there is a lot of meat to be discussed.