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China's challenge: the gender imbalance

Even in a society like China where male heirs are often preferred, the news here still made people cringe: Luo Cuifen, a 29-year-old woman, is to undergo surgery to have more than 20 needles removed from her body.

Apparently, the needles were stuck into Luo's body when she was an infant – possibly by relatives who wanted her dead so that her parents in this one-child society might have another chance at giving birth to a son. Doctors consider it a miracle that Luo survived all these years.

AP
In this undated photo, an X-ray image of Chinese woman, Luo Cuifen, 29, needles are seen in her body.

Some women newly empowered

To be sure, the status of women in China has improved in recent years due to education, modernization, general changes in attitudes – and, ironically, to the country's traditional male preference.

In China's largest cities, many educated, single women now are in greater demand – creating a dramatic social shift. China's longstanding one-child policy has created a skewed ratio between the genders, with 119 boys reported born for every 100 girls, according to official figures.

A recent documentary film, "Shanghai Bride," explored the sometimes cut-throat nature of that city's marriage market, where women's vastly superior numbers mean they call the shots in the dating game. 

Change slow to reach the countryside

But this China girl power doesn't always extend to the countryside, where the majority of the country's massive 1.3 billion population lives and where attitudes change slowly.

Infanticide has given way to couples now illegally using pre-natal ultrasounds to determine gender and abort pregnancies. On Friday, there were press reports detailing the rescue of 40 infants allegedly purchased in rural China who allegedly bound for prosperous buyers on China's east coast. 

In an effort to address crimes involving children, as well as China's growing gender imbalance, Beijing has passed news laws intended to better safeguard pregnancies and clarify existing laws regarding the one-child policy.

Many in China's countryside are allowed to have more than one child. It's a move Beijing hopes will address the problems at hand.

But what can't be legislated is a reversal in attitude. That remains China's challenge.