Over spring break, I visited my four cousins. Two of them look enough like my brother and I to pass as our other siblings. The other two are adorable girls adopted from China. My uncle and aunt decided to adopt when they realized they were unable to have children and “too old” to adopt a young child in the United States’ adoption system. They also are humanitarians who decided to do some good in the world.
So why China, and why girls? Half the Sky, an organization devoted to making sure children in Chinese orphanages have proper care, estimates that 95% of healthy children in orphanages are female. The ratio of females to males is leveling out a bit as more families give up children of either gender because of financial hardships, but there are still disproportionately more females than males in the social welfare system. These girls will not grow up in a “socially acceptable” class, even if they had come from a good family, and therefore will probably not find husbands anywhere but in the lower class. They will not have the same level of education as children allowed to stay with their families. Most of them will never know who their parents are. Some of them, but not many, will be lucky enough to find loving homes in the United States or Europe.
There are many, many girls in the orphanages because of China’s one-child policy. This policy’s purpose is to control China’s outrageous population growth. Families incur huge fines for having an illegal pregnancy—that is, one that happens without the couple first asking the government’s permission to have a child that year (and yes, the Family Planning office can tell them no). Some provinces require women of reproductive age to take a pregnancy test every 2-3 months to try and catch pregnancies early.
Couples who have an “illegal pregnancy” and decide to have the baby are not granted the “authorization certificate” (similar to a birth certificate, but this government document says that the child was allowed to be conceived) until the heavy fines are paid. To avoid this, if the couple continues the pregnancy, they either give the child up for adoption or hide the child at home. The child is then sometimes passed off as an immigrant that they are adopting, and an authorization certificate is not necessary.
But why does that mean more girls than boys in orphanages? There are a few reasons. Boys can inherit; girls cannot. Boys, as adults, are supposed to take care of their elderly parents; girls are expected to take care of their in-laws. A girl means the end of the family name and loss of the family property. Some families would rather take a girl to an orphanage and try again for a boy rather than losing “everything” on a girl.
Contraceptives and abortion are generally accepted methods of controlling the population growth. However, the Chinese government realizes that if they are not careful, there will soon not be enough girls for the boys to marry. So, it is illegal for a doctor to reveal the gender of the baby to a couple at a sonogram. If a doctor discloses this info, he or she could lose his or her license. Couples that knowingly abort a female baby face criminal charges.
I understand that without China’s one-child policy, the population will spiral out of control. However, is it right to deny the parents’ right to know the gender of the baby for fear of abortion? Is it right for parents to have to hide children for fear of punishment? Is it right for children to be abandoned because of their gender or genetic defects? Is it right that thousands if not millions of bright young women with so much potential are left alone in orphanages with little hope for a good future?
My cousins, Libby and Fulin, are incredibly bright, beautiful young girls who now have the chance to succeed and grow up to be whomever they want to be. We don’t know why they were left at the orphanages, but we suspect it is related to the government’s one-child policy and Fulin’s birth defect. Libby and Fulin are lucky. They have well-to-do adoptive parents and are in an excellent school. Fulin has had the best medical care possible to repair her cleft palate. The girls can grow up to go into whatever field they chose. They will be able to decide if or when they want children, and how many…maybe.
In China, women must marry and reproduce to avoid shaming their family. They can only have one child, and feel pressure to have a son. Though she can have an abortion for an “illegal pregnancy,” she essentially has no choice. You’ve probably read this with a great deal of outrage, as well you should. That level of control over a woman’s reproductive choices is outrageous.
Here, in the United States, some people in our government are threatening to take away our right to choose the number of children we have. They want to stop abortion if possible, and if they can’t, put dramatic restrictions so that less women can get one. No, it’s not as drastic as China’s controls, but isn’t forcing a women to have a child when she doesn’t want to as bad as telling a women she isn’t allowed to have another? How are we the land of the free if we, like China, decide to let the government control our reproductive options? We have a vote; Chinese women don’t. We shouldn’t stay silent and waste our freedom.
(Much of my research was summed up in from this website, which I would encourage you to look at if you’re at all interested in the Chinese one-child policy. For more info on helping Chinese orphans, check out www.halfthesky.org)