HONG KONG—China's controversial and sometimes brutally enforced one-child policies have significantly slowed population growth but also encouraged unofficial human rights violations in the form of baby-trafficking, experts say.
"It's the result of imposed controls on the structure of the population."
"The most important factor is the one-child policy," Gu Yuan, a researcher at the U.S.-based China Information Center told RFA's Mandarin service.
"Before these restrictions came into effect the gender ratio in Chinese families was fairly normal. And they were very strictly enforced. So taken together with the traditional Chinese preference for boys, this gave rise to the problem of trafficking in children."
Earlier this month, Chinese police arrest more than 100 people in a raid on a baby-trafficking gang, rescuing 53 baby boys.
The babies were intended for sale in the southeastern province of Fujian for as much as 18,000 yuan (U.S.$2,180) to couples not permitted to give birth to another child under family planning restrictions.
"In the countryside, a lot of very poor people will actually sell their own child because they need the money."
"There is trafficking in girls too, and in brides. It's all the result of imposed controls on the structure of the population," Gu told RFA in a panel discussion. "Many of the boy babies are sold under duress. For example, if the couple has not yet married. Some of them are too poor to raise the child."
Cong Su, a columnist at the Hong Kong-based magazine, Kaifang , said traditional values still reigned among China's rural communities.
"According to traditional Chinese beliefs, male children are preferred, and if people give birth to a girl they won't be very happy. Everyone wants a baby boy."
"In the countryside, a lot of very poor people will actually sell their own child because they need the money," Cong added.
Gu said she expected little respite for rural families in recent government pledges to relax its hard line on population control, focusing instead on the welfare of mothers and babies.
"Even if they do relax the rules on the one-child policy, they still won't allow people to plan their own families. I think the one-child policy is inhumane and illegal," she said.
"The one-child policy does not allow families to decide how large they will be, but imposes controls top-down. If they do not comply they can be arrested, or the women even forced to have an abortion. This is illegal, and inhumane."
But Cong said China's population control efforts, while using unacceptable methods, had won widespread appreciation in the international community.
"What would China's population be now if it wasn't for the family planning policy? Especially in the countryside," she said. "I'm thinking about my own situation. I was the youngest child of eight, and some families had 13 or 14 children."
But experts agreed that prosperity appeared to be the most effective method of birth control.
"You have to change people's outlook, but also their circumstances," Gu said. "Look at the countryside, for example. People have no health insurance, no pension, no security. So their children are their health insurance, their pension and their labor force."
Cong said that very few families in relatively rich Taiwan now had families of more than eight children.
"I think you have to find a slightly kinder policy, which is based on education, rather than this tough and cruel approach they have now," she said.
While little is known about the extent of the abuse in China's countryside, torture and ill-treatment have been widely reported under the one-child policy.
Local birth quotas play a prominent part in the policy, upheld by stiff penalties and rewards.
Women who become pregnant without permission are frequently punished with heavy fines, and can lose their jobs.
If the woman doesn't obey, officials may resort to violence, including the demolition of the family home and forced abortions. However, children registered as adopted, including those bought on the black market, do not incur a penalty.
In August, 29-year-old Ma Weihua faced drug charges and was forced to have an abortion in police custody so that the judge could sentence her to death "legally.”
A pregnant women cannot be sentenced to death in China.