Echidne has a terrific post about India and China’s sex ratios. In both countries, there is rampant sex-selective abortion and infanticide, leading to sex ratios of 882 and 832 girls to 1,000 boys respectively. Echidne uncharacteristically takes the snarky road here, so let me try and be a more policy-oriented wonk.
1. Abortion restrictions don’t work here. China already forbids doctors to tell women the sex of their babies before birth. On the contrary, freer abortion turns this into a legitimate if decidedly sexist choice rather than murder.
2. Conversely, other governmental restrictions on fertility exacerbate the problem. In India, the sex ratio is largely a product of dowries, which make girls a financial burden on poor families. In China there’s no such thing; the problem stems mostly from the one-child policy, since families prefer having at least one boy to continue the lineage. Nor does the relaxation that families are permitted a second child if the first is female help much, since it still creates potentially a 2-to-1 gender ratio.
3. India’s ban on dowries is only helping a little bit. In the villages, a lot of progressive Indian laws are being routinely flouted. Officially, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste; in practice, the status of low-caste Indian villagers is about the same as this of black Alabamans in 1927.
4. Urbanization won’t help much. In Delhi there are 827 girls per 1,000 boys, despite having an above average level of income. Urbanization has done a lot to help women and low-caste people, but is entirely skipping the practice of sex-selective abortion, which is only getting worse due to increasingly expensive dowries.
5. Enforcing existing laws will help, but can only go so far. India doesn’t have an especially stable government, and in the long run will have an even less stable one as a consequence of the immense surplus of males. Cracking down on dowries is too politically unpalatable.
6. Baby steps like the one that the government is trying to promote, namely encouraging parents to abandon girls in local hospitals instead of abort or kill them, are the most secure. Unfortunately, they’re also the slowest, and problems of an oversupply of men can become very urgent. All hell broke loose in China in the 19th century in precisely those areas with lopsided sex ratios.
7. Exporting people is theoretically possible, but requires Western countries to forego their racism enough as to admit 2 million people every year – the 1 million missing women plus 1 million men to compensate. At a time when Europe is trying to return to its medieval roots and the United States lets in something like 300,000 legal immigrants per year, it’s not realistic for the Indian government to bank on that. It’s the best the West can do, but it’s probably even more politically difficult than to enforce anti-dowry laws in India in the first place.