Abortions Surge in China; Officials Cite Poor Sex Education


HONG KONG — More than 13 million abortions are performed each year in China, according to statistics disclosed by Chinese health officials on Thursday, a marked increase from 2003, the most recent statistics available.

When unreported and medication-induced abortions are counted, the actual number is substantially higher, according to physicians and medical researchers quoted by the state-run newspaper China Daily on Thursday.

The rate of abortion in China — about 24 abortions for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 — is less than half that of the world’s highest rate. That is Russia’s, at 53.7 per 1,000, according to the United Nations Population Division. Some two million abortions are performed each year in Russia, which has a population of 142 million. China’s population is 1.3 billion.

But the rise in the numbers is significant. In a joint report, the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute put the number of abortions in China in 2003 at 9 million, out of a total of 42 million worldwide that year.

Chinese officials said a low level of sex education among young people was the reason for the widespread use of abortion.

More than 70 percent of callers to a pregnancy phone line at a Shanghai hospital knew almost nothing about contraception, China Daily reported. Only 17 percent were aware of venereal diseases, and less than 30 percent knew that HIV/AIDS could be transmitted sexually.

“Sex is no longer considered taboo among young people today, and they believe they can learn everything they need from the Internet,” Yu Dongyan, a gynecologist, told the paper. “But it doesn’t mean they’ve developed a proper understanding or attitude toward it.”

A Chinese cultural preference for sons, combined with the state’s longstanding one-child policy, has resulted in a widening use of gender-selective abortions and “an imminent generation of excess men,” according to a recent report in the online British Medical Journal. There are now 32 million more Chinese boys than girls under 20, the researchers found, an imbalance that is expected to widen over the next 20 years.

Abortion has been legal in China since 1953, although sex-selective abortions were banned starting in 1994. China was the first country to approve mifepristone, the abortion-inducing drug also known as RU-486, and by the late 1990s it was widely available — by prescription and on the black market — all across China.

Wu Shangchun, a research official with the National Population and Family Planning Commission, told China Daily that about 10 million abortion-inducing pills are sold annually in China.

Abortions at registered clinics in China cost about $88.

Nearly half of the women who had abortions had not used any form of contraception, Ms. Wu said. About 60 percent of the women who have abortions are between 20 and 29 years old, and most are single.