CATHOLIC REGISTER PHOTO | MICHAEL SWAN
As the result of its one-child policy, China is well on the way to having an overwhelming preponderance of boys among its youth.
Chai Ling, a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and now the founder of the American NGO All Girls Allowed, believes China's one-child policy is undermining the moral and spiritual values of the nation.
Ling goes so far as to call what's happening there a "gendercide" - a regime of coerced abortions that brings the state right into the wombs of China's women and distorts Chinese values.
"The one-child policy is becoming more than just a population control policy," said Chai, author of the just-released book A Heart for Freedom.
"It has become a policy of control of its own population - to put fear of the state into the hearts of women, into the most intimate part of the relationship between a man and a woman."
China's one-child policy is just as it reads: couples are only allowed to have one child. Due to this, China is missing as many as 37 million girls, says All Girls Allowed.
Although China enacted a 2004 law against sex-selective abortions, it is widely ignored (Chinese women are more likely to abort a girl rather than a boy).
Chai claims 86 per cent of Chinese women go through at least one abortion and 52 per cent have two or more. Given the pressure from husbands and in-laws clamouring for a male heir, combined with a legal regime which limits most Han Chinese to a single baby, Chinese abortions of unborn females can only be characterized as coerced, said Chai.
Through a network of volunteers in China, All Girls Allowed (www.allgirlsallowed.org) gives monetary and other support for women who give birth to their illegal second and third children.
A society that denies women the ordinary, human fulfillment of giving birth to their own children, of loving them and raising them in a family soon loses its moral sense, said Chai.
"Compassion needs to be brought into this society to help women overcome the spirit of despair, to find God, to come to know Jesus through prayer, to reduce every day abortions," she said.
Chai claims Jesus as her inspiration for a movement which she claims continues a struggle that began in Tiananmen Square 22 years ago.
Chai arrived in Tiananmen Square as just another 23-year-old graduate student, there to mourn the death of former Communist Party general secretary Hu Yaobang. Hu had been purged from the party after calling for political and economic reforms, along with a re-examination of contemporary Chinese culture and spiritual values.
"At the time we didn't quite understand what he was talking about and we concentrated on political reform and economic reform," said Chai.
Sex-selective abortions in China are mainly a phenomenon in families that have found a way around the one-child policy.
Research shows that if the first child is a girl the chances a second child will be male rise astronomically.
Source: The Journal of Human Resources, Avraham Ebenstein
In 1989 she began bringing food to other students in the square. But Chai was called a "general commander" of the student movement by the time tanks rolled through June 4.
With the help of activists in Hong Kong, she escaped to Paris and then the U.S. where she earned an MBA from Harvard and founded an Internet company. In 2009 she became a Christian. In 2010 she founded All Girls Allowed.
Although there has been a degree of reform in China post-Tianamen Square, there's more to building a society than economics, she said.
"It's an awful value system toward women. It really disproportionately values men (in) a male chauvinist type of environment," she said.
"What happened in China is not acceptable in any culture, by any moral standards. A woman there is not allowed to give birth to two babies. The women have no choice and babies have no right to life."
China's government claims its population-control policies are not to blame for the growing imbalance of the sexes.
"It is incorrect to simply equate the family planning policy to mandatory one-child policy as the cause for gender imbalance," a spokesperson for China's Canadian embassy told The Catholic Register.
"The Chinese government firmly opposes and prohibits any form of compulsory abortion or abandoning, abusing or discrimination against baby girls."
Thirty years of official Chinese population control has prevented about 40 million births, said the embassy. That's a 3.1-per-cent reduction in China's population. The population reached 1.3 billion four years later than estimated.
Some demographers question the value of a four-year delay in reaching 1.3 billion. There will be a heavy price to pay for a fertility rate far below replacement, said Brookings-Tsinghua Centre director Feng Wang in an essay published in May.
"Continued low fertility with accelerating aging . . . raises concerns not just for labour supply but also for the ability of the government and families to support a rapidly expanding elderly population," wrote Feng.
In China, it is those missing girls who would have cared for their elderly parents in years to come.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem demographer Avraham Ebenstein puts the blame for China's gender imbalance on the one-child policy combined with widespread access to sonography.
Based on China's 2000 census, Ebenstein estimates "pre-natal selection and infanticide can account for a female deficit of roughly 9.3 million missing girls," he said in the winter 2010 edition of the Journal of Human Resources. He calls this estimate "conservative."
All Girls Allowed believes the number is more like 37 million missing girls.
The burden of the one-child policy is being born now by Chinese women, said Chai. "That woman has to be forced or coerced either by political or legal or economic pressure, or psychological pressure, to give up that baby.
"That woman is imprisoned in despair. That woman should not be condemned, should be supported, should be prayed for and loved."
Chai went through two abortions as a student in China, then a third as a political refugee in Paris whose marriage was breaking down.