BEIJING - As China's population becomes more dominated by males, authorities have begun a national campaign to crack down on procedures used to determine a fetus' sex for anything other than medical purposes and abortions performed because a fetus is of a certain sex.
The campaign is being undertaken by the National Population and Family Planning Commission, the Ministry of Health, the State Food and Drug Administration, the Ministry of Public Security and other government agencies. It will last until March 2012 on the mainland, Li Bin, minister of the family planning commission, said at a national teleconference on Tuesday.
The campaign will give the public a sense of the importance of having a balance between the numbers of males and females in the population. It will also severely punish those who help to determine the sex of a fetus for something other than a medical purpose or to perform sex-selective abortions, and will ensure that more is done to monitor for those acts.
"Illegal fetal sex testing and sex-selective abortions are the direct causes of the long-term problem of a serious skewing in the sex ratio in the mainland, which arises from a deeply rooted tradition that favors boys," she said.
"If the trend in the ratio imbalance continues without something to intervene, it will put at risk the equality of the sexes, the development of girls, the lawful interests and rights of women and the nation's long-term development."
Liu Qian, vice-minister of health, pledged to make sure health institutions are better supervised, warning that "those caught taking part in such practices will be seriously punished or may even face criminal charges".
Doctors who violate the ban will be stripped of their licenses or otherwise punished and medical institutions found to be taking part in the practices will be subject to harsh punishments, Liu said.
In 2010, China's sex ratio among newborn babies on the mainland was 118.08 males for every 100 females, the greatest disparity found in the world.
That came after a year in which the ratio had stood at 119.45 and marked the first decrease in the ratio to occur since 2006, when the Ministry of Health began to formally prohibit hospitals throughout the mainland from testing the sexes of fetuses and performing sex-selective abortions for anything other than medical needs.
Despite the slight improvement, Li said the sex ratio, particularly among babies on the mainland, is still concerning.
In other countries, between 103 and 107 males are usually born for every 100 females, according to Yuan Xin, a professor in the Tianjin-based Nankai University's population and development institute.
He said the campaign will not make things right on its own.
"It mainly targets the measures that lead to a sex ratio imbalance, which is also associated with culture, tradition and socioeconomic factors," he said.
He said it will take a long time to rectify the imbalance, which first appeared on the mainland in the early 1980s.
In 1982, China recorded for the first time an imbalance in the sex ratio among newborns in the country. It became worse during the 1990s and peaked in 2004, when 121 males were born for every 100 females, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.
As a result, China was home in 2010 to about 30 million more males under the age of 30 than females in the same group.
"They will have a hard time finding a wife," Yuan said.
Xinhua contributed to this story.