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Our Insights 8 Sep 2007

The Global War on Baby Girls

By John Elkington

Had breakfast this morning with Frances Cairncross, now Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, and her husband Hamish Macrae. Hamish, I recall, commissioned my first article for The Guardian (for which I wrote off-and-on for almost 20 years), that time on the financial page, way back in the late 1970s. Between the three of us, we have four daughters. And the thing that sticks in my mind was their mentioning someone also here in Dalian, demographer Nick Eberstadt, who holds a Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Among other things, he is focusing on what he calls ‘The Global War on Baby Girls.’

Can’t say I see eye-to-eye with the AEI on many things, given that in my mental map they are skewed way over towards the right-wing end of the spectrum. Indeed, it has been one of the ironies of SustainAbility, Inc.‘s evolution that we shared an office building in Washington, D.C. for several years. (I always thought of them as occupying the backside of the building.) In any event, here’s one issue we do agree on as an increasingly urgent priority – the intense pressure in some societies to produce boys rather than girls, evidenced by the missing millions of girls in countries like China and India.

Hamish wondered whether this male skewing would make for a more militaristic China in future, though he then noted (on the flip side) that the removal of large numbers of men from Germany’s population by WWI didn’t do much to pacify that country in the following decades.

On its website, AEI makes the point that since 9/11 “the American public has received regular updates on what we have come to call ‘the global war on terror.’” But, he stresses, a “no-less significant global war – a war, indeed, against nature, civilization, and in fact humanity itself – has also been underway in recent years. This latter war, however, has attracted much less attention and comment, despite its immense consequence. This world-wide struggle might be called ‘The Global War Against Baby Girls.’” Eberstadt has already done a short publication on the story – and I’ll be keeping an eye open for the book.

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