Four government departments have jointly launched a crackdown on the illegal gender testing of foetuses and subsequent abortions.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission, Ministry of Public Security, State Administration for Industry and Commerce, China Food and Drug Administration have posted a draft regulation online and are inviting comments from the public.
It is the first time a number of departments have linked up in this way to tackle the issue. According to the draft, the authorities would establish a joint law enforcement system operating at all levels to combat illegal sex-determination tests and abortions.
The roles of authorities above the county level are clearly defined. Health and family planning authorities would organise and coordinate the enforcement of the law, while industry and commerce administrations would monitor advertisements for illegal testing.
Food and drug administrations would monitor sales of equipment and medicines employed in the illegal procedures and the uses they are put to. Public security organisations would punish those who break the law.
Sex-determination tests can be used only for legitimate medical purposes such as checking for genetic diseases, according to the draft.
A woman whose pregnancy meets the State's requirements may have an abortion only if the foetus has a genetic disease or serious defect, or if her life or health would be threatened if she continued.
The regulation is designed to help balance the country's sex ratio at birth.
Sex-determination tests are prohibited because of the traditional preference for having a baby boy rather than a girl.
The sex ratio in 2013 was 117 boys born for every 100 girls, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Internationally, the normal range is between 103 and 107 boys for every 100 girls.
Sex-selective abortions after gender tests have fueled the imbalance.
Despite repeated crackdowns, the illegal activities continue. While many couples visit illegal clinics in China, many others travel to Hong Kong or Thailand to undergo sex-selective procedures so they can have a boy.
A woman was caught carrying 96 blood samples from pregnant women to Hong Kong for DNA gender screening at Luohu checkpoint in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on Aug 7.
Yuan Xin, a professor of demographics at Nankai University's Institute of Population and Development, welcomed the long-awaited regulation, which he said will "provide a clearly defined legal basis for handling and punishing such cases".
He said all sex-selection abortions should be treated as criminal offences, as they are in India and South Korea, where baby boys are also favoured.
Currently, "the criminal law only applies to gender-selective abortions by non-licensed medics," he said. However some abortions are performed by licensed practitioners, and these are not regarded as criminal offences under the existing law.
Yuan said this is the first time government departments have joined forces in this way to curb sex-selective testing and abortions.
"The issue is complicated and couldn't be addressed by a single department," he said.