China cracks down on gang that identifies sex of unborn babies

BEIJING - China has broken up a gang that offered illegal services to determine the sex of unborn children so that women could abort those they did not want, the country's Health Ministry said yesterday.

The ministry said the crackdown netted 10 people who had, since 2010, operated a service sending women to a clinic in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, for the sex determination procedure.

Last year alone, more than 1,000 women used the service, it said, although it did not say how many abortions resulted.

According to Chinese media, the gang caught attention in 2012 after a woman from Zhejiang province died from complications following extraction of amniotic fluid by operators at the clinic - a key part of the procedure.

One of the ringleaders has already received a jail term of 31/2 years and was fined 100,000 yuan (S$21,000), with the rest getting slightly shorter sentences.

The ministry said it was the biggest case of its kind in the past few years.

"This went on for a long time, covering a wide area and involved many people. It was malicious, had serious results and was a great threat to society," it said.

The problem is widespread, the ministry warned, adding that it faced a serious situation in trying to end such abuses.

Three decades of strict family planning have bolstered a bias for male offspring in China, traditionally seen as the main support of elderly parents and heirs to the family name. The preference has resulted in abortions, killings or abandonment of girls and trafficking of children.

The government has tried for years to address the issue, which has led to serious population imbalances in some parts of China, particularly its wealthy coastal provinces.

While the government late last year announced a relaxation of its one-child policy, many curbs remain, with Beijing saying family planning is still a key way to ensure China does not produce too many children to burden limited resources.