• China imposes stricter regulations on abortions as the country faces a gender imbalance crisis.

China imposes stricter regulations on abortions as the country faces a gender imbalance crisis. (Photo : Reuters)

Health and family planning officials in east China’s Anhui Province are drafting plans to ban abortions for women 14 weeks into pregnancy, a move which observers see as one of China’s latest attempts to combat sex-selective abortions believed to be the major reason for the country’s growing imbalance of gender ratio.

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According to a report by the Global Times citing portions of the draft, women more than 14 weeks pregnant can only receive an abortion if doctors discover an abnormality in the fetus or if the pregnancy violates the country's family planning policy.

Violators will be fined up to 5,000 yuan ($806), with institutions or individuals providing illegal fetus gender identification or gender-based abortions facing stiffer penalties or even be held criminally liable, the report said.

The Anhui government is seeking public feedback on the draft until June 30.

The abortion ban, which has already been adopted by a dozen other provinces across China, is part of a nationwide campaign against illegal gender identification of fetuses and sex-selective abortions, which was launched by the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) and six other central government departments on May 7.

According to data from Xinhua News Agency, there were 115.88 Chinese boys born for every 100 girls in 2014, which is higher than the ratio of 103 to 107 boys for every 100 girls recommended by the UN.

Illegal gender identification and sex-selective abortions "directly cause the gender imbalance," according to NHFPC.

Lu Jiehua, a social demography professor at Peking University, said that many Chinese families prefer boys over girls due to a cultural bias in favor of males.

"As the family planning policy gives them limited chances to give birth, couples choose to do pre-birth sex selection to make sure they can have a son," Lu said in an interview.

Lu added that the gender imbalance could lead to serious social problems, such as an increase in violence, as many men will be unable to find a wife.

According to a 2010 Social Development Blue Paper of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the gender ratio of Chinese aged below 19 is the worst among all age groups.

By 2020, the number of marrying-age Chinese men will outnumber women by 24 million.

Enforcing stricter rules on abortions after 14 weeks of pregnancy can help in limiting pre-birth sex selection, as ultrasound tests are accurate after that time period, said Li Jiafu, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University.

However, experts say that the crackdown still faces many challenges.

The methods of identifying a fetus's gender have diversified, making it more difficult to crack down on illegal gender selections, Lu said.

"More people choose to get blood tests in Hong Kong to identify the fetus's gender," he added.

Advertisements of agencies in mainland China offering gender tests can be found in online forums and social network forums, with clients able to get results in as little as three days, the Global Times said in its report.

Lu said that gender discrimination in education and employment has also fostered the culture of gender bias.

In the long run, the campaign will have limited impact, Lu added.