BEIJING (Reuters) - China has taken its first baby steps in narrowing a gender chasm that has left the country with tens of millions more boys than girls, an official said on Thursday.
In 2009, there were 119.45 male newborns for every 100 females, down from 120.56 in 2008 and the first decline in years, said Li Bin, head of the State Population and Family Planning Commission.
The natural ratio should be about 105 males per 100 females at birth, but the gap has widened in China since it introduced a one-child policy three decades ago to curb population growth -- a restriction that bolstered a traditional preference for boys.
Wider use of ultrasound and abortions has caused the imbalance to increase significantly in recent years, shocking ordinary Chinese and alarming leaders who worry violence and instability could plague a society full of unmarried young men.
"Looked at from a comprehensive perspective, the lopsided sex ratio at birth has started to be contained," Li said in comments reported on the government's main website (www.gov.cn).
She said it would take many more years to consolidate the trend, calling for more vigilance in rooting out pre-birth gender scans and abortions that do not serve a medical purpose.
More than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age could find themselves without spouses in 2020, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said last year. The government research institution named the imbalance as the most serious demographic problem faced by the country's 1.3 billion population.
Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Paul Tait