Young Couples Seek Girls ‘Made in China’

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BEIJING -- For decades Chinese families preferred baby boys to baby girls.

That's slowly changing. China's booming economy and family attitudes have growing numbers of parents hoping for daughters.

The funny things parents do to make their little ones smile. And what a smile Zhu Mei En has.

"She is the joy of my life," beamed Li Hai Ying.

Girls Rule

When Li Hai Ying and her husband Zhu Wenhao discovered they were having a girl two years ago, they were ecstatic.

"The Chinese culture traditionally favors boys so when you have a girl, couples will sometimes have an abortion. But not us," Zhu, a Beijing resident, said.

Zhu and Li Hai, both Christians, are not alone.

More and more, Chinese families are beginning to reconsider the centuries-old preference for boys.

"Boys are desired because they will support and look after the parents in their old age," Li Hai said. "Also, boys have a better chance of finding work and supporting themselves. But people's attitudes about this are changing."

Especially when it comes to the role of women in society and their ability to thrive in a predominately male culture.

"I own my own business here in the city and I am able to provide for my family," Chen Ke Er, a young female entrepreneur in Beijing, said. "So unlike in the past, today more women are getting an education. And they are entering the workforce and doing well."

Savings on Girls

For Zhu Wenhao, and growing number of families, having a girl is seen as a huge savings on the family budget.

"In Chinese culture if you have a boy, the parents are responsible for buying him an apartment before he gets married," Wenhao said. "Add to that the cost of educating him and all the other expenses, it adds up."

While a growing number of Chinese people, especially in the big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou prefer a girl, in the vast majority of the countryside boys are still sought after.

And because the traditional preference for a male offspring is still strong, Chinese women continue to practice sex-specific abortions, especially in rural areas. 

The result is a severe gender imbalance. 

China's One-Child Policy

Decades under the controversial "one child per couple" policy has left China with more men than women.

"The government's attempt to keep the birth rates down has been a huge success, but the consequences of this social experiment are devastating," one Beijing resident said.

A Chinese government-backed study says in the next 20 years there'll be more than 24 million men of marrying age unable to find spouses.

In some parts of the country, the male-female ratio is so acute, that women and girls are kidnapped from neighboring countries, brought into China, and forced into marriages.

"The one-child policy has contributed to this problem, and that needs to change," remarked one concerned citizen. "But it is only half the problem. We have to change people's view about just having boys."

A Reason to Smile

The Chinese government is trying to gradually fix the problem. Earlier this year authorities reduced the fines for wealthier couples living in Beijing and Shanghai wanting two or more children.

There's also a discussion at senior governmental levels about changing the one-child policy within the next five years.

It would be welcome news to Zhu Mei En's parents, who are part of a new generation of Chinese couples whose expectations of a family have changed.

"I cannot afford to have another baby just yet, but definitely down the road, in a couple of years, it would be nice to have that option," Zhu said. "But for now we are very thankful to God for our baby girl."

*Originally broadcast on May 18, 2011.

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