China's gender ratio remains high, with men far outnumbering women, raising concerns about social instability, gender imbalance and non-sustainable development, as authorities announced a nationwide campaign to reverse the problem.
The eight-month campaign will target non-medical gender determinations and gender-selective abortions, all of which are illegal under Chinese law.
The campaign is jointly orchestrated by top government departments, including the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC), the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the All-China Women's Federation.
Liu Qian, vice minister of the MOH, said Tuesday that doctors found guilty of performing the two illegal acts will be stripped of their medical licenses and penalized, and that health institutions involved would also face punishment.
Efforts will be made to raise awareness of gender equality and to strengthen monitoring.
According to China's sixth national census, the gender ratio at birth in 2010 stood at 118.06 males per 100 females, slightly lower than the 119.45 ratio seen in 2009, but still higher than the 116.86 ratio from the fifth national census in 2000.
Li Bin, minister of the NPFPC, said the 2010 ratio was much higher than the 102 to 107 standard set by the UN, and that abortions and gender determinations remained at the root of the matter.
According to the Xinhua News Agency, some remote counties in Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces have a ratio of 150 men to 100 women.
Experts warn that, should this trend continue, China may have 30 million more men aged 20-45 than women by 2020.
They further state that this problem could affect long-term social stability as a large number of unmarried men would mean a boost sexual trafficking and hurt employment in some industries.
A report release by the National Bureau of Statistics in November showed that in 2010, the ratio between unmarried men and women at age 27 was 199 to 100. The ratio went up to 293 to 100 for people at age 33. The imbalance is slightly lower in urban areas, where the average ratio for unmarried men and women between 27 and 34 was 162 to 100.
Some textile plants along the country's fast developing eastern coast have already been short of female workers in recent years, the People's Daily reported.
Demographer Wang Guangzhou at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said that China's strong preference for male children, coupled with the lack of social welfare, lay at the heart of the problem.
"Traditional values still prevail in some rural areas, where having male heirs is important for ensuring that the family' bloodline is preserved," Wang said. "Furthermore, many Chinese families rely on their children to look after the elderly since a solid social welfare system is still unavailable for much of the population."
China's one-child policy has also encouraged potential parents to manipulate gender decisions before birth, a process made easier by modern technology.
The country has implemented family planning policies for about three decades that have restricted urban couples to just one child, while ethnic minority families are permitted to have more children.
"Those who prefer boys will employ any means necessary to determine the child's gender as they only have one shot," Li Jianmin, a demography professor at Nankai University in Tianjin told the Global Times.
Reports revealed that B-type ultrasonic inspections have long been abused in China to determine a child's gender.
Prospective parents preferred to pay doctors 200 to 500 yuan ($78.34) extra to have the inspection, leading to potential decisions to abort female fetuses.
"It is very hard to decide the legitimacy of an ultrasonic inspection sonogram. Some hospitals and patients may work out a system between themselves so that a sonogram can be performed without anybody saying anything about the baby's sex," Wang told the Global Times.
Analysts noted that apart from license stripping and fines, doctors face no other criminal penalty.
Li said that similar traditions favoring boys in South Korea persisted until severe punishments were wielded on doctors to help bring the ratio back to normal over the last two decades.
In April, President Hu Jintao called for efforts to address gender ratio problems, saying that the country will stick to its family planning policies and maintain a low birth rate.
Lu Jiehua, a sociology professor at Peking University, said that there is a lot more to do than fighting abortions and sonograms.
"Unequal opportunity such as unequal education chances brings gender bias. So a fundamental remedy is to fight inequality."
Earlier this month, the State Council issued the Outline for the Development of Chinese Children/Women (2011-2020), vowing to eliminate discrimination against girls and continue promoting gender equity.
Huang Shaojie and Xinhua contributed to this story