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'It's a girl' is a phrase more likely to be heard

SHANGHAI parents are increasingly overturning ancient Chinese notions when it comes to the sex of their children.

The boy-heavy gender imbalance declined in 2008 for the first time in eight years, the city's family planning authority said yesterday.

The gender ratio for newborns among families considered to be permanent residents amounted to 114.8 boys for every 100 girls last year, down from 115.2 in 2007. That category includes people who hold residency certificates and those who have lived in the city for more than six months.

Within that category, the group with a nearly natural gender ratio comprised those holding residency permits. The ratio for the city's most stable population was 106.5 boys to 100 girls in 2008, 1.2 points lower than in 2007. The natural distribution of boys to girls ranges from 103:100 to 107:100.

But the biggest change among the three separate indicators tracked by the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission was among migrants who have been here less than six months. That rate fell from 123.4 boys to every 100 girls in 2007 to last year's 121.9 to 100.

Shanghai government has instituted several policies, including education, subsidies and more training opportunities for girls, to help reverse a gender imbalance that could cause problems when the children grow up and try to find a spouse. The moves were designed primarily to encourage migrants from rural areas to have daughters. In China's countryside, people usually prefer boys to girls, and some pregnant women have abortions if they know they are carrying a girl.

Also among the favorable population policies that began last year were special monthly subsidies for couples whose only child died or was disabled and an insurance program for single children.

The city also tightened inspections to close down underground medical clinics that perform gender checks on fetuses, which are illegal, and on unlicensed abortions.

The government shuttered 106 underground clinics in 2008, confiscating medical equipment and medicine.

Xie Lingli, director of the population commission, said the city still faces tough challenges in population management and will focus this year on family planning services, migrant population administration, gender ratio control, early education for children and better information management and analysis of population data.

The city's permanent residents are expected to reach 19.1 million this year, about 215,000 more than in 2008. They are forecast to give birth to 170,000 children, for a birth rate of 0.9 percent, about the same as last year.


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