“I don’t want anyone to know,” says one woman.
“I want to work the same day,” says another.
“I want to have children in the future,” adds a third.
These are the typical slogans in the many advertisements for abortion that appear on TV, in newspapers, on the sides of buses and even on fashion websites in China.
Admittedly they are a far cry from some of the older family planning slogans that were sometimes daubed across walls in red paint. “One excess child and the whole village will be sterilised,” read one of the grimmer examples.
As China has changed, the ages of women seeking terminations are getting younger, Wu Shangchun a researcher at the Family Planning Commission told CCTV recently.
Professor Wu said a relaxation of sexual mores combined with a lack of decent sex education were to blame and that the rise of cases in younger age groups might well be causing an overall increase in the number of abortions.
Accurate figures for the number of terminations in China are hard to get. But Wu said 13 million would be a conservative estimate, suggesting that the number of abortions could come close to China’s annual birth rate of about 16 million children.
Officially, abortion rates peaked in 1983 at 14 million, five years after the one-child policy was introduced, while figures issued by the Health Ministry suggest that there were 6.6 million abortions last year.
But Wu thinks that number is far too low.
His survey of 80,000 cases also led to his estimate that 48% of terminations are carried out on women under the age of 25. Of this group, 31% are unmarried and 50% have become pregnant for the first time.“I think young people’s main issue is that they don’t have a good knowledge of contraception,” Wu suggests.
Others concur. “Many young women who have abortions in our [Chinese] clinics say they don’t know what a condom looks like,” Xinhua quoted a spokesperson for Marie Stopes International as saying.
Chinese schools don’t teach students effectively about sexual health, largely because teachers are embarrassed about the topic, the Chinese media says. But Wu’s new report has prompted widespread calls for better sex education.
“Our teenage sex education programme has not made progress for years. [It] centres on abstinence and totally forbids teenagers from having sex. But this has a limited effect,” the People’s Daily complained.
But other state media wondered whether the widespread advertising of abortion services was partly to blame too, especially in suggesting that surgery was easy, painless and without side effects.
“Such advertisements easily mislead women about the risks and dangers of unsafe abortions,” Xinhua said.
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