BC-CHINA-GIRLS:WA – world, itop, xtop (610 words)

After decades of too many boys, China encouraging parents of girls

KRT NEWSFEATURES

(DIVERSITY) (ARCHIVE PHOTOS, ARCHIVE GRAPHICS) (HAS TRIM)

By Tim Johnson

Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT)

JINSHI, China – In a few rural corners of China, authorities are trying to convince parents that it isn’t the end of the world if they have only girls.

A program called “Caring for Girls” allows village officials to pay for girls’ schooling, exempt rural parents from paying taxes and even help build new homes for parents with two girls – as long as they stop having more children.

“This program offers the girls a free education all the way to college, if they can make it,” said Bai Pian, a Communist Party official in this hamlet of coastal Fujian province.

Bai ambles through his village talking about the 18 couples whom the program has helped. Each has two daughters. All the mothers have since been sterilized.

“According to tradition, most parents after having two daughters still want to have a boy. But the government wants them to stop. So that’s why it started the “Caring for Girls’ action plan,” Bai said.

China’s population soared in the last half-century, from 583 million in the 1953 census to about 1.3 billion today. In the late 1960s, Chinese women had six children on average. Alarmed by the growth, the country established a “one-child policy” in 1979. It was later relaxed to let rural women have two children.

Rural Chinese want sons because the country has no real social security system, and sons – not daughters – traditionally care for aging parents and carry on the family line.

China’s per-capita abortion rate is only slightly higher than in the United States, and the use of ultrasound for sex-selective abortions is illegal. Even so, the practice has been common, and the result is a gender imbalance of 100 girls to 117 boys nationwide. By 2020, China may have 30 million to 40 million young men unable to find wives.

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In places such as Fujian province, family planning is strictly enforced. Children must be spaced at least four years apart. Asked what happens if a couple defies the childbearing limits, Bai responded: “It is not possible.”

In the hamlet of Jinshi, local officials gave Chen Shumei and her husband, a stone worker, the equivalent of $2,400 toward a house, about a third of the cost for materials. They built it themselves.

On the threshold of her new home, Chen, 37, grasped her daughters, Xiaomin, 12, and Xiaozhen, 8, and said, “It’s a very good house.”

Bai said he thought that hundreds of villages in Fujian province, northeast of Hong Kong, were implementing some form of the program.

Elsewhere in China, such as the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, family planning officials give parents of two girls seed money for income-generating businesses, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said. In other areas, the government has pledged a monthly subsidy of about $6 – a helpful sum for a rural family – for couples with single children or two girls once the parents turn 60, Xinhua added in a dispatch in May. It didn’t say how widespread the plan is.

Even with such assistance, some parents seem glum at the prospect of having no boys.

Chen Zhibing, a 45-year-old quarry worker, has clipped most the hair off his two daughters, making them look like boys. It’s clear he still wants a son.

Asked whether that was possible, Chen said curtly: “There’s just no way.”



(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): CHINA+GENDER

ARCHIVE GRAPHICS on KRT Direct (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): CHINA+GENDER

AP-NY-07-09-04 0622EDT



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