Sunday, April 5, 2009

A tragic aspect of rural-urban difference in China

A story by Andrew Jacobs in today's New York Times is headlined, "Rural China's Hunger for Sons Fuels Traffic in Abducted Boys." Part of the story is really "old news," about the Chinese one-child law. What is new is a discussion of some consequences of that law that I had not previously seen discussed: abduction of male children who are then bought by families who have no son.

As the headline suggests, the story is also about rural-urban difference. In fact, it is about the rural-urban divide in several senses. First, the story suggests that the one-child rule is enforced more vigorously in rural places, particularly in some regions. Second, the story suggests that the adverse consequences of not having a son are greater in rural China, in part because custom--which dictates that a daughter move to the home of her in-laws when she marries--is adhered to more closely in the country. This leaves parents who have only a daughter with no one to care for them in their old age. Both of these differences between rural and urban mean that children (mostly male) are kidnapped in the city and sold to families in the country.

Here are some excerpts which express rural-urban difference:
The demand is especially strong in rural areas of south China, where a tradition of favoring boys over girls and the country’s strict family planning policies have turned the sale of stolen children into a thriving business.

* * *

Although many Chinese still cherish male heirs, the Communist Party has largely succeeded in easing age-old attitudes about gender. In major cities, where one-child families have become the norm, many parents say they are happy to have a daughter and no son.

Jacobs reports that male children remain more valued, however, in rural places. He also reports that they can be purchased for about half of the fine parents must pay for violating China's family planning laws. Ironically, unlike with regard to new births, local authorities don't require registration of these purchased children.

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