Almost 1,500 every hour – that’s how many abortions are being performed in China, or over 13 million a year. It’s the highest figure in the world by far, according to new figures released by the State Family Planning Commission’s Science and Technology Research Institute.
Another finding, say officials from the Science and Technology Research Institute, is that many people still don’t know how to use contraceptives. That’s all the more amazing in a country that has operated a one-child policy for over 30 years (where one might suppose family planning campaigns would be a priority, too).
But Wu Shangchun, a professor at the institute, explains that some of the ignorance can be blamed on Chinese culture, where sex has traditionally been an embarrassing subject, to be avoided in discussion. That means parents, schools and other potential sources of reliable information simply fail to discuss contraception with young people. They respond by taking risks and pregnancies are the result.
“About half of people use no contraception and the remainder rely on methods such as ‘the safe time’ or ejaculating outside of the body,” Wu told China Radio International. “An inability to use contraception scientifically and methodically is the reason for its failure. For example only about 10% of people say they use condoms every time,” she remarked. Only about 12% of young Chinese people said they “highly understood” how to use contraceptives, according to the study, which was released to coincide with World Contraception Day.
“Many young people face obstacles in getting information about contraception and other information,” another radio station, China National Radio, reported.
“For example they are embarrassed to discuss the subject or are afraid they will be found out by their parents, school or friends, leading to serious deficiencies in their basic reproductive knowledge,” it said.
To put China’s abortion rate into perspective: women in India (population 1.24 billion versus China’s 1.34 billion) had about 6.5 million abortions in 2008, according to the Times of India – about half the number in China (the figure has been relatively stable since then, too).
And in the United States, with about a quarter of China’s population, there are 1.2 million abortions a year. Even if you adjust for population differences, China’s abortion rate is still well over double America’s.
Contributing significantly to China’s figures is the country’s tough one-child policy, which leads to high rates of voluntary and forced abortions, experts agree. But – and this is important – over 6 million of the abortions a year are carried out on women under 25, the majority of whom are not married, China Radio International quoted Wu as saying. That means they are probably not falling victim to family planning laws. That means other factors, like social disapproval of unmarried motherhood, could be a major factor in the high abortion rate.
Nor do general levels of education seem to play the role that they do in some other countries. “University students make up a major group. Many young women born after 1990 haven’t matured yet and are ignorant about the damage that can be done to their bodies by abortion,” China National Radio said.
“Experts are calling on society, schools and families to stress the importance of this issue, to think how to spread knowledge and help young people assess the risks of ‘love’ and reduce the damage,” it continued.
But one factor was conspicious by its absence in the reports: elective abortion based on the child’s gender. Due to the one-child policy and the traditional preference in China for sons, abortion is often used to avoid the delivery of a daughter. According to the 2010 census, the gender ratio for births is 118 to 100 in favour of boys. That’s an anomaly that can only be explained by China’s high abortion rate.
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