(Corrects China's population number to 1.29 billion)
London (CNSNews.com) - The Chinese government has introduced legislation to outlaw abortion based on a baby's gender, while at the same time entrenching in law its controversial "one child" policy.
China's first draft law on birth control was tabled before lawmakers earlier this week, the People's Daily reports.
Explaining the new legislation to a National People's Congress standing committee, family planning minister Zhang Weiqing said couples who exceed the government-set birth quota would be charged levies.
Each couple would be encouraged to have one only child, while those meeting "legal conditions" - usually set by provincial authorities and already in place - could have a second.
Zhang stressed that the levy paid by defaulters should not be seen as a "permit" to have more children, but as compensation to make up for the additional burden the extra child would place on society.
It was necessary to entrench existing family planning policies in law, he said, because the issue was "very sensitive, and may cause chaos in people's minds if handled improperly."
Zhang said the law would forbid any identification - "with no medical purpose" - of the gender of an unborn baby. Ultrasound scans have been used to detect the sex, sometimes prompting parents to have abortions if the gender did not meet their preference.
This practice had "seriously impaired the gender balance of the population," he added.
Earlier this month, figures released by the Chinese authorities showed that 117 boys were being born for every 100 girls. Ten years ago that ratio was 111 boys to 100 girls. The international norm is 106 boys to 100 girls.
Human rights groups report cases of unwanted baby girls being killed after birth too, as well as in the womb. Others are abandoned.
Boys are traditionally preferred by rural Chinese, and are also favored as they are seen as more able to provide elderly parents support in the absence of a sound social security system.
Zhang said the birth control policies put in place 20 years ago were working. They had "served the objective of promoting China's overall strength and social progress, and the improvement of people's living standards."
China's population has reached 1.29 billion, but the average annual growth rate has dropped 0.4 percent over the past ten years, to 1.07 percent.
Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson caused a stir last week when he appeared to express support during a television program for China's population control policies.
The former presidential candidate said Beijing's leaders were "doing what they have to do" to prevent a population explosion.
He later issued a clarifying statement, reiterating his "deeply held [pro-life] convictions."
See Earlier Story:
China's Skewed Boy-Girl Ratio The Result of Abusive 'Family Planning' Policy (April 6, 2001)