Thank Heaven For Little Girls

From The New York Daily News

Overlooked in the controversy over whether China’s women gymnasts – including He Kexin, winner of this week’s tiebreaker for the gold medal in uneven parallel bars – are of age (16, as required by the International Olympic Committee to compete in the Olympic Games) is a brutal irony.

While the Chinese government grooms these girl gymnasts to dazzle on the international stage, so widespread is discrimination against girls in China that as of the last census in 2000, there were nearly 19 million more boys than girls in the birth-to-15-year-old age group.

The reason? A deep-seated preference for boys: Traditionally, Chinese parents want sons to care for them in old age, carry on the family name and perform religious rites.

During some eras of Chinese history, the cultural bias in favor of males has led to a proliferation of female infanticide – killing of infant girls. Another common practice was abandoning baby girls, or placing them in ill-equipped orphanages (this practice spiked in the 1980s as a result of the Chinese government’s one-child policy). Recently, the advent of prenatal sex screening in China has made it easier to select female fetuses for abortion.

The sum of all this social engineering is that there are presently 37 million more men than women in China. And with 119 boys born for every 100 girls there today, social scientists predict a worsening crisis as an “army of bachelors” unable to find wives comes of age.

Recently the Chinese magazine Beijing Luntan wrote that in upcoming decades, many Chinese men, losers in the competition for women, will have to “handle the punishment they have received as a result of . . . the mistakes of the previous generation.”

Mistakes? Sins would be more accurate.

Is there any more evidence of the wisdom inherent in nature than the delicate balance of numbers of men and women in the world? China has assaulted that balance in such a brutal way by literally trashing girls.

But the Communist Chinese government does have its uses for girls. Last week, Olympian Yang Yilin, who is speculated to be as young as 14, offered a glimpse into the nature of training for Chinese female gymnasts. Asked by a reporter how many vacation days she gets a year, the soft-spoken, 4-foot-10 inch gold and bronze medalist replied, “I have not had a holiday since I joined the national team.” (That was more than a year ago.) Asked if her parents were in Beijing to watch her compete, she replied, “I don’t know.” Asked when she last went home, she said, “Not since I joined the national team.”

This girl has become just what her government wished her to be: a champion performer. Her emotional health and happiness seems not to have been a concern.

Any day of the week, I’d rather watch American women athletes fall on their rear ends than witness a flawless performance by a child who has been separated from her parents to train for more than a year without a vacation.

Here in the U.S., we certainly have our share of social problems. We may to a lesser extent be guilty of favoring males, too. The other night at a family dinner, my cousin’s wife, mother to three little boys who were in the other room watching the Olympic opening ceremony, said: “Think about it, if you were only allowed one child, which sex would you choose?” The downward glances and shrugged shoulders told the story. Even here in the comparatively girl-friendly U.S.A., most would choose a boy.

But at least the overwhelming majority of Americans cherish their children, whether boys or girls, and would not abort a healthy child due to its sex. And we recognize and honor the right of an individual to his – or her – life, not just to serve our needs, or as a tool to serve the desires of government.

Hopefully it won’t take decades or generations for China to compete with the U.S. on that terrain.

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