A Chinese family’s tragedy and the preference for boys over girls

  • Sisters’ apparent double suicide reignites debate over traditional favouritism shown to sons
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 9:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 9:45pm

A 17-year-old girl and her 10-year-old sister have died in an apparent double suicide in central China, after an argument with their 12-year-old brother over food, according to Chinese media.

The Beijing News reported that the elder sister wrote in a note that the fight over the food was the last straw for her and hoped her parents would forgive her.

“I took my sister with me. I know it’s wrong, but I’ve also spared her from the same fate as me, so don’t hate me, OK?” the note said.

In the note, the girl from Song county in Henan province did not claim the brother received preferential treatment but the case prompted animated discussion on social media about the traditional preference for sons in China. “They were victims of a family that only wanted sons,” one Weibo user claimed.

Others said the incident could not have been solely about food. “She did not commit suicide over a bite of food, there must be some other reason,” said one Weibo post.

Researchers have found that a preference for boys over girls leads to girls receiving less nutrition, particularly in rural China. A study published by Tian Xu, Yu Xiaohua and Stephan Klasen in 2017 found that on average rural couples spent just 70 per cent the amount on food for teenage girls than they would on teenage boys.

The preference for boys combined with China’s now-abolished one-child policy has created a gender imbalance in the country, where there are 34 million more men than women. The Chinese government has taken steps to address the situation, banning sex determination for non-medical reasons and forbidding abortions for gender preference.

But China still ranked 100 out of 144 in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 report on the global gender gap, partly due to ranking last in terms of the sex ratio at birth.

Deadly demographics: Women face grim odds in male-heavy societies like China, India

Human Rights Watch released a report in April detailing gender discrimination in Chinese job advertisements which reserved specific jobs for men only or objectified their female employees to attract male applicants.

The preference for men over women also stretches beyond childhood. China University of Mining and Technology, for example, only accepts boys into their mining engineering programme.

If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255.