In keeping with International Women’s Day, The Economist featured the killing of baby girls as its cover story on the March 6-12, 2010 issue.
The article discussed the disturbing gender imbalance in China and India due to the strong preference for sons over daughters. It talked about gender-based infanticide, sex-selective abortion enhanced by access to ultrasound scanning, and the social and economic implications of the skewed gender ratio.
In examining the repercussions of a distorted sex ratio, the article focused on the damaging effects of this imbalance on the marriage prospects of men. In the opening paragraphs it said:
“In January 2010 the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) showed what can happen to a country when girl babies don’t count. Within ten years, the academy said, one in five young men would be unable to find a bride because of the dearth of young women – a figure unprecedented in a country at peace.”
“China faces the prospect of having the equivalent of the whole young male population of America, or almost twice that of Europe’s three largest countries, with little prospect of marriage, untethered to a home of their own and without the stake in society that marriage and children provide.”
After a lengthy discussion on sex ratios, the article again stressed the “hazards of bare branches” saying:
“Throughout human history, young men have been responsible for the vast preponderance of crime and violence – especially single men in countries where status and social acceptance depend on marriage and having children, as it does in China and India. A rising population of frustrated single men spells trouble.”
The point it seems to be making is that female babies should be allowed to live primarily because males need wives. A shortage of potential brides could create all sorts of social problems. The validity then of a female’s claim to life may depend on marital utility. How comforting.
It also seems to view marriage as some sort of reform school or restraining mechanism that will keep guys out of trouble. Married men, by virtue of their civil status, are somehow dutiful citizens while single men have a strong potential to be the scum of society. Now there’s a compelling argument against celibacy.
Skewed sex ratio, while already a result of gender discrimination, is causing further gender-based abuses such as trafficking of women. Young girls are uprooted from their communities and sold to men who have a hard time looking for brides.
By focusing on the value of females in relation to their function to males, the article ends up reinforcing the oppressive mindset that women are mere subordinates or worse, a piece of property. It promotes the myopic view that the role of women is confined to marriage and motherhood.
Sex selection is an odious form of discrimination. It is wrong because it is unjust to women, not merely because it is inconvenient for men. A female should live not because she has to be somebody’s wife someday. She should live because she is entitled to do so, just as a male has the same right to life.