India and China have been successfully on the path of modernisation and respected global status for the past two decades. India joined China and others in the nuclear club in 1998 and both have embarked on economic reform bringing hundreds of millions in each country into the middle class. China is only the third country to launch a human into space, its first lunar rover is presently on location and it plans a permanent space station and manned expeditions to the Moon and Mars. In 2008, India successfully sent its first mission to the moon, and its Mars Orbiter Mission is now en route to the red planet.
They are doing well in space but both countries have a very earthy problem, the antediluvian preference of families in every society for male offspring. In India and China it has produced an epidemic of female foeticide, disastrously skewing the ratio of females to males. India now has 914 females to 1,000 males, recalling the warning 20 years ago by Amartya Sen of 100 million girls “missing” in India as a result of son preference. China’s gender imbalance is also worsening, now with 118 males for every 100 females, heading towards 20 million more men than women by 2030. In some rural areas there are already only 67 girls for every 100 boys.
The social problems created by this imbalance are aggravated by an ongoing increase in educated, career-focused young women in both countries who are postponing marriage. Today many young men in China and India, particularly the poor and uneducated, have dim prospects for a female partner. According to the Economist, unmarried young men in China, known as “bare branches,’’ are as many as the entire population of American men; and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has warned that by 2020 one in five young Chinese men would be unable to find a bride! To compound the absurdity, son preference harms the men themselves, for as observed in some animal species, the stress of competing for mates shortens life.
But it is women in India and China who suffer the worst from the unbalanced ratio. Rape is prevalent in both countries. Who can forget the 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old female university student in South Delhi, in a bus by six men, including the bus driver. The woman died from internal injuries. In India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes, with 24,923 cases reported in 2012. But that is the tip of the iceberg, since most rapes are kept secret for fear of retaliation or humiliation. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, used the premier podium of his first Independence Day speech to highlight the issue, saying “as we hear about the incidents of rapes, our head hangs in shame.” Sensing the connection between the selective abortion of female foetuses and rape, Modi called on Indian families to “stop killing daughters in the womb”.
In China, no statistics are available from its authoritarian government, but rape is also most common. The US State Department reported 31,833 rapes in 2007, but here too the actual figure is much larger. A UN report asked Chinese men if they had ever forced a female to have sex and 22.2 per cent said yes. Fifty-five per cent of the men had raped more than once and nine per cent had violated four or more women. In another study which interviewed two thousand Chinese, 25 per cent of interviewees admitted to having raped a woman, and about 1.25 per cent admitted to having participated in gang rape.
Can these countries stop this demographic time bomb? Both have made prenatal screening for sex identification illegal but enforcement is a problem and in India, after 20 years, only 46 sex selection cases have been brought against medical practitioners, with just one conviction.
They must do much more. High levels of crime, unrest and social instability are the inevitable outcomes of multitudes of single young men on the loose, without the stabilising influence of female companionship. Award winning writer Sonia Faleiro, who lived in New Delhi for 24 years, says sexual harassment in that city is as regular as mealtime and recounts a particular experience this way: “The steady thrum of whistles, catcalls, hisses, sexual innuendoes and open threats continued. Packs of men dawdled on the street, and singing Hindi film songs, rich with double entendres, was how they communicated. To make their demands clear, they would thrust their pelvises at female passers-by.”
Their girl problem is now a man problem in India and China.