CHINA'S family-planning policy of "one couple, one child" could leave more than 24 million men unable to find a bride in a decade's time, a report says.
The country's leading think-tank describes the gender imbalance among newborns as the most serious demographic problem facing China.
The surplus of bachelors in the poorest rural areas has been described by senior officials as a problem that could lead to social instability -- the ruling Communist Party's greatest fear.
The report makes no bones about how the one-child policy has led to a preference for boys.
"Sex-specific abortions remain extremely commonplace, especially in rural areas," according to the report, which was published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Officials acknowledged that the introduction of ultra-sound scans in the 1980s resulted in a surge of abortions of female foetuses as parents wanted boys to carry on the family line. That tradition is important in a society where reverence of ancestors continues to underpin the social structure and where farmers want sons.
"The problem is more serious in rural areas, due to the lack of a social-security system," the report said. "Ageing farmers have to rely on their offspring."
The normal birth ratio of 103-107 boys for every 100 girls began to shift in the 1980s. It rose from 108 boys in 1982 to 111 in 1990 and 116 a decade later.
A report in the British Medical Journal last year by Dr Therese Hesketh of University College London noted that two poorer, mainly rural provinces had the highest imbalances, with 140 boys for every 100 girls in the one-to-four age range. She wrote: "Nothing can be done now to prevent this imminent generation of excess men."
Some Chinese demographers hinted that it was time to shift from the family-planning policy that has been credited with preventing 400 million births. (© The Times, London)