Healthy sex ratios pacify societies, but that’s not the case in Taiwan, a small island nation 180 kilometers east of China.
Hot springs and dramatic mountainous terrain encircle bustling Buddhist and Taoist Taipei, the 13,000-square-mile capital city characterized by tremendous diversity and tolerance, and appreciated for its dynamic night markets, street-food, Chinese imperial art and Tapei 101, the tallest skyscraper standing at 509m. It’s a place where watermelon toast is all the rage, and one can enjoy meals prepared like feces out of toilet bowls, as Her Report did upon visiting.
It was just about 6 am when I had stepped off a 17-hour flight from New York, and again off an hour-long bus ride, seated atop a pleather aqua cushion that rested unsteadily on a rusted bar, which then leaned on the iron bus walls festooned with taped-up Hello Kitty posters and food menus. There was no irony in that those aboard the bus with me were men, aside from one Taiwanese-American woman who shared my flight. There was no irony because most of the people in Taiwan are men; according to data compiled by the Department of Health, Taiwan’s gender ratio at birth is about 112 males for every 100 females, compared to a natural ratio of about 106 males to 100 females.
Among the most populous, but notably of the cleanest, urban areas, where pedestrian crossing signs are animated—likely to warn street-crossers of mass scooterers—I met Jane, just nine years old and soon-to-be older sister of a baby brother.
Probably because I was a redheaded American, she noticed me. Jane approached me with squid on a stick, which I ate; why I accepted squid on a stick from a strange nine year old remains beyond me, but I was hungry and I’d get to write about it. Jane and I quickly became friends, teaching one another words and crafting friendship bracelets on none other than Hello Kitty duck tape in the park to officiate things.
“My brother,” she said. “My brother is,” she gestured a circular motion around her stomach. I assumed he was overweight. He was not. Jane’s mother stepped over to me with wide eyes, and an even wider baby bump. She was pregnant, carrying Jane’s brother.
It occurs to me now that Jane is just a small statistic in a nation where girls are all-too-often undervalued. She had three sisters, she told me, which is perhaps why the elation evident in her mother’s eyes when she spoke of Jane’s brother comes to no surprise. Her mother was having a son—too many families literally kill for that.
In Taiwan, sex-selective abortions, infanticide (the preference for boys due to patrilocal traditions) and female mortality due to severe malnutrition and medical neglect are not uncommon, all made possible by the negligence of health authorities in adopting measures to prevent the aforementioned practices.
Taiwan’s abortion law stipulates that a woman can undergo an induced abortion “if the pregnancy adversely affects the psychological or physical health of the woman or her family life.” However, since 2000, a government directive has stated that doctors should not carry out gender screenings of fetuses, unless the screenings are related to the x-linked recessive disease, a genetic disorder related to the X chromosome. The fines for doctors ignoring this have been delineated since 2001. Though, it seems that the directive was largely ignored until January 13, 2011 when it was re-emphasized and sex-selective abortions were banned. Taiwan’s health authorities began warning doctors that they could have their licenses revoked if they were found guilty of committing sex-selective abortions.
Nonetheless, demographers at the United Nations Population Fund have estimated that 200 million women and girls in the world are demographically “missing.” The euphemism hides one of the least punished crimes against humanity—what has become known as a silenced “gendercide.” We’ve been having this global conversation since 100 million women and girls were deemed missing back in 1990.
Taiwan has one of the lowest total fertility rates in Asia, at 0.91 children per woman, but an astonishingly high abortion rate, estimated at about three abortions to every live birth. According to a 2011 report by the Asia Sentinel, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 abortions are carried out in Taiwan each year, while only 166,000 babies were born in 2010. This has resulted in up to 3,000 missing female babies each year, and President Ma Ying-jeou had already declared the low birthrate a national security issue in 2011.
The Taiwanese government’s highest watchdog, Control Yuan, told the Taipei Times that sex-selective abortions “could explain the higher sex ratio at birth for a family’s third child compared with the first and second child, and the higher sex ratio at birth for mothers aged 35 compared with young mothers.”
The Bureau of Health Promotion and the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have also been criticized for failing to monitor abortion providers. Control Yuan reportedly censured the FDA for failing to regulate the RU486 abortion pill, estimating that between 41,000 and 54,000 people use the pill per year. The FDA does not gather any data on the pill’s consumption, market scope, origin and distribution, or legality of use.
Taiwan is second only to China in regard to gendercide. China’s 2014 sex ratio at birth estimates that there are 116 male births for every 100 female births. While this is down from a high of 121 male births per 100 female births in 2004, 66 million women and girls are still missing, accounting for 10.3 percent of the nation’s female population.
The pressure for having boys is so intense across Asia that, last week, a woman in Vietnam confessed to aborting 18 children because they all were girls.
The country’s two-child policy, which could intensify the pressures of having sons and adversely affect abortion rates, is still in full effect for at least another year, states news released today.
According to The Gendercide International Resource Center, the U.N. General Assembly had adopted a resolution, “Taking Action Against Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls,” declaring that all states have an obligation “to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms” and said, “Discrimination on the basis of sex is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and other international human rights instruments.”
But gendercide will not fix itself, explained Reggie Littlejohn, president of Womens Rights Without Frontiers, whose group battles the Chinese one-child policy. “It’s not going to be going away,” she told WND last Monday. “It’s going to be getting worse.”
As it stands, the number of victims claimed by gendercide exceeds the number of deaths in World War I and World War II combined. It surpasses the number of people killed in all genocides of the 20th century, and has eliminated more people than the AIDS or great flu epidemic of the early 20th century.
In 2011, health officials warned that it may take another three to five years to weed out the illegal sex-selective abortion practice entirely. By 2012, a report from Taiwanese health authorities said that a crackdown on illegal sex-selective abortions prevented the abortions of 1,000 girls in the year prior. But, flash-forward to 2015, gendercide is still creating a grave gender imbalance in practicing countries.
While Jane is fortunate to have been brought into the world regardless of her sex, is in school and practicing gymnastics and dance with the support of her mother, her future inevitably remains a looming concern in a society where there are relatively few in her dancing shoes.
Large-scale female gendercide and infanticide in Asia means an underclass of surplus men have even stronger proclivities for crime, violence and vice erupting in regions where sex ratios are most skewed and there is the inability to marry. Predictably, the “bare branches” spend heavily on drinking, gambling and prostitution.
The scarcity of women means that younger girls are married off to much older men, sometimes before reaching puberty, leaving no time for education or work. An unsavory trade in brides sells women to buyers—sometimes multiple buyers—in an arrangement indistinguishable from slavery. Eager for heirs, their husbands and in-laws press them into childbearing, likely before their bodies are ready, resulting in increased maternal mortality rates.
In the fifteen minutes it took to read this, 60 girls were aborted, or smothered or drowned solely because of their sex, brides were trafficked and those who didn’t comply were burned, mothers succumbed in childbirth as scarce medical resources are directed away from maternal care and widows starved to death devoid of the wealth and assets that were channeled away from them and instead through their late husbands’ families.
The Gendercide Awareness Project suggests that micro-credit loans, education that will lead to income and thus respect, and improvements in maternal healthcare could curb gendercide, all the while preventing trafficking and delaying marriage.
*NOTE: Her Report does not endorse any of the referenced sources’ views on abortion. Her Report remains neutral in regard to prolife versus prochoice, and implies only that sex-selective abortions pose threats to the practicing populations.