I is for Invisible Girls

In November of 2013, China implemented new legislature to relax its controversial one-child policy, which has been in effect since the 1970s. According to this new amendment, couples will be allowed a second child if one of them is an only child. Prior to this change, both parents had to be only children in order to be able to have a second offspring.

This minor change in policy, however, does not negate the decades-long gendercide that has occurred as a result of the original law and the serious gender-imbalance that is in effect today. This new amendment is neither reformatory nor revolutionary, but rather a mere tweak at a rusty machine.

[China’s one-child policy, the largest population control implemented in history, has prevented about 400 million births and resulted in 13 million abortions per year, a major percentage of which are forced. That’s 35,000 abortions per day or 1,500 per hour. ](excerpt) It has also given rise to one of the greatest gender imbalances in history as there are currently 40 million more boys than girls in China.

This is due to the fact that Chinese couples, especially in rural areas, prefer to have boys rather than girls. Thus, couples who are only allowed one child usually abort, abandon or even kill their baby daughters in order to have a son. These practices are due to both the established patriarchal hierarchy in China and the cultural values of the people.

As Lisa Ling explores in the documentary, China’s Lost Girls, many believe that a boy offers much more “security” than a girl: A boy will stay with his family, provide labor and support and carry the name, a notion that is given much reverence and importance. Girls, on the other hand, are said to be like “running water,” leaving the family once they marry.

This skewed mindset has led to the abandonment and killing of millions of girls throughout the years and has resulted in a very serious social problem for China: its gender imbalance.

As the generations of boys grow to adulthood and seek to get married, there won’t be enough girls to evenly match. Many experts predict that this will lead to great violence, prostitution and sex trafficking, realities that are already apparent in China.

As China’s Lost Girls portrays, a growing and ubiquitous problem in China has been the kidnapping and forced marriages of young women for little to no payment. According to another documentary, It’s a Girl, this issue has also trickled to young children as they are kidnapped as future brides.

Overall, there are 70,000 women kidnapped and trafficked per year, a major problem that is a result of the gender imbalance in place.

It’s a Girl also reports 500 female suicides per day, the highest in the world (2012). As Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights without Frontiers states in the documentary, these statistics reflect the national gendercide being practiced in China.

These women go through forced abortions and sterilizations and are faced with kidnapping and sex trafficking threats, all in the framework of unwanted little girls left in boxes at parks and rivers. These women feel worthless and unwanted, having been conditioned to believe that their lives are worth less than the lives of their opposite sex. Thus, these suicide statistics are only reflective of the cultural norms and practices.

Screenshot from "It's a Girl"
Screenshot from “It’s a Girl”

With what has been only a very minor change in legislature, the lives of these women remain brutalized and cruel.

Rather than a numerical shift from one to two children or a tiny nudge at the law, a cultural shift needs to take place where women are seen as competent and equal.

This isn’t an issue of numbers, of one or two children, but an ideological problem. The right to liberty is a universal one, and the mere notion of arguing for a woman’s freedom is devaluing on its own. As author and activist, Rita Banerji, argues, women aren’t endangered species or extinct plant life displayed on Powerpoint slides for you to be aware of and donate to, but human beings.

Women’s rights are human rights, and China’s one-child policy is a human rights issue that needs to be addressed on a broader scale.

What YOU can do:

Sign WRWF’s petition to stop forced abortions in China


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  1. While i think this is a great article and you did your research, i don’t agree with your stance on the gov’t. That’s just how things are in China, that’s the culture and they’re making changes slowly so give them some credit. Also i hate this idea that white women should go help the poor Asian women. It’s disrespectful and we can take care of ourselves.

  2. Lisa,

    Your remark about “that’s just how things are in China” reminded me of “boys will be boys.” I don’t think that’s an excuse for gendercide. I do agree with your statement that it is the culture, and that is exactly what I’m arguing a change for. It’s not a matter of having one or two children, but the fact that women’s lives are deemed inferior to men’s.

    As far as your second point, nowhere in my article does it state that “white women should go help the poor Asian women.” As a Middle Easterner, I admire the daily bravery and resilience that women show in face of oppression in that part of the world. No where do I argue for their “salvation”; I only link the petition that’s drafted by the WRWF organization, which is doing an amazing fighting the forced abortions and sterilization.

  3. The last thing china needs is more people. With a greater gender imbalance many guys will not get married and have kids thus creating less people that we don’t need on this planet. China’s one child policy is genius and necessary. The system is perfectly fine the way that it is now.

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