Asia: The land of raising sons
By William Sparrow
BANGKOK - Many people felt deep sympathy for the plight of Japanese Princess Kiko when she was under relentless pressure to bear a baby boy as an heir to the emperor. Japan has long had a male-centric interpretation of familial ideals about procreation in the pursuit of carrying on the family name. The scrutiny placed on 41-year-old Princess Kiko, formerly Kiko Kawashima, has had far-reaching, having negative effects on some Asian societies and the fallout has been both dangerous and sad.
It can be unfair to the women of Asia that that the responsibility of bearing a child of a specific gender is the responsibility of the female. This attitude ignores the basic scientific fact that it is the male spermatozoa, with either an X or Y chromosome, that determines the gender of a child.
In a joyous outcome, Princess Kiko, after much anticipation, bore her third child on September, 6, 2006; a baby boy named Hisahito, sparking much celebration within the royal family and throughout Japan.
Princess Kiko is a salient example of the pressure placed on women to produce a male heir. In her case, it was to guarantee the continuation of the monarchy, as Japanese society as a whole does not have a preference for male babies.
In contrast, it is in India and China, the two most populated countries in the world, where cultural and societal issues are leading to a serious problem in regard to gender discrimination in reproduction. Both countries suffer from decades of male preference, which has caused a disproportionate gender ratio in both countries.
The United Nations Development Program reported as recently as 2006 that the female-to-male birth ratio is believed to be 850:1,000 in China, while a 2001 census in India found the ratio to be 927:1000. These are national averages - provincial and state-level numbers can be even more dismal, such as the Indian state of Haryana, where the 2001 report found the ratio to be 820:1000.
Some experts believe that as many at 3 million female fetuses are terminated through gender-selective abortions each year between China and India. The long-term effect of these lost females can be devastating both socially and economically. The reasons for this male preference vary between these two countries.
In China, there is strong familial pressure to produce a baby boy to carry on the family name; this has been exacerbated by China's "one-child policy" that was implemented in 1979. The intent of the one-child policy was to stem an exploding population, and though this may have helped, the unexpected side-effect has been abandoned baby girls, female infanticide and gender-selective abortions.
China has tried to reverse this trend in recent years by allowing a couple having a girl as their first child to be exempted from the one-child rule, offering subsidies to families having a female child and more subsidies should the second child be a female as well.
India has similar issues behind its preference for boys. Foremost is a deep-seated bias against baby girls. India practices a "reverse dowry" system, opposite from most other societies. In India, the responsibility of providing a dowry is on the female and her family, and can often be costly.
In a country where poverty is a critical issue, it is understandable that the burden of marrying off a daughter might make some families think twice.
In India, like China, the birth of male children is essential for carrying on a family name.
As a result, India has suffered problems with female abortion, abandonment and infanticide. India has taken similar moves in trying to reverse the trend; in its case it outlawed the practice of a dowry needing to be provided.
Unfortunately, it is still widely practiced as it is seen as a long-standing tradition. Subsidies for female children also have been started. While gender-selective abortion has been outlawed in both countries, it is still widely practiced.
Whether abandoned at birth or later, many of these women face exploitation in the sex industry in both China and India.
Sometimes their own parents sell unwanted girls into the sex trade for money, at other times it is simply to ease the burden of another mouth to feed.
The dearth of females has also created some desperate bachelors in China and India.
A subsequent effect has been a boom in prostitution, sexual assaults and rape. Many men lack sexual outlets, and many bemoan their chances of finding a girlfriend or wife. Families selfishly assume that some other family will provide a princess for their little emperor, but the sad truth is that Chinese and Indian men are finding it increasingly difficult to find their Cinderella.
"The authorities are shocked at the bride shortage in [India], and they are suddenly clamping down in a big way," said Richa Tanwar, director of women's studies at Kurukshetra University in Haryana, speaking to the Times of India.
"But even the bride shortage is not going to change things in [our] society ... The attitude is, 'okay, let the neighbors have daughters, I still want my sons'."
Sons are believed to be an economic asset, daughters are thought of as a liability - and such attitudes are nothing new to Asia. It is not past some parents to murder baby girls through suffocating, starvation or a fatal dose of opium.
India, China and many Asian countries need to increase the value of females in society. They are, after all, mothers, sisters and daughters.
And don't look now, but women throughout Asia are becoming increasingly successful and often just as able to support their families as their male counterparts. Providing healthcare, education and empowerment will ensure the success of the next generation of women.
Societies such as China and India will become more successful when they can bridge the social and economic woes caused by the gender gap. Maybe Chinese and Indian couples need to be reminded that their daughter could become the next Bollywood actress or Miss China or better, a powerful politician or doctor ... the possibilities are endless and it's time to stop taking away the potential of women without even giving them a chance.
Girls Outshine Boys @ http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/story.aspx?id=NEWEN20080051374&ch=5/30/2008%2011:52:00%20PM