ON the wall of a toilet stall in an Internet cafe on Meichuan Road in Putuo
      District hangs the torn remnant of a leaflet offering ultrasound to pregnant
      women who want to know the sex of their unborn.

      “Half-hour scan to know
      the baby’s gender” and “painless abortion” are the only words remaining on the
      anonymous ad, which gives a mobile number but no address. No doubt, the leaflet
      was ripped from the wall by police.

      In China, where the one-child policy
      often collides with the traditional preference for a son in the family,
      ultrasound to determine the gender of a fetus is banned except for medical

      That has created an underground in illegal ultrasound

      Unlicensed doctors – or people who pretend to be doctors – take
      pregnant women into shadowy clinics to offer them ultrasound scans. Often these
      charlatans use veterinary ultrasound devices developed for pigs and

      After observing a vague shadow on the screen and sometimes little
      more than guessing at what they are seeing, these “doctors” reveal a baby’s
      gender to the mother. If she is not pleased by the news, they usually offer a
      cheap abortion.

      Municipal health authorities are well aware of these
      illegal practices, but stamping them out is proving difficult.

      “Our staff
      must wear uniforms when investigating these illegal clinics for law enforcement,
      and that just causes these people to flee at the sight of us,” said Hu Xuewei,
      an official with the Shanghai Health Supervision Agency. “We want local people
      to give us more tips to help us stop such illegal medical practitioners and
      protect public health and safety.”

      The unlicensed doctors are cunning.
      They don’t reveal themselves before carefully sizing up potential “patients”
      from a safe distance.

      “I have scanned hundreds of times and the results
      are all correct,” a “doctor” told a reporter who called the number on a leaflet.
      “It’s 200 yuan (US$31.39) for the scan if the result is a boy and 100 yuan if
      it’s a girl. Call me again when you are standing at the corner with your
      pregnant wife.”

      The reporter went to the corner of Meichuan and Wanzhen
      Road and called the “doctor” again.

      “I can see you there,” the voice on
      the phone said. “But where is the woman? Sorry, but no business with you.”

      And then he hung up.

      By talking to market vendors in the area,
      the reporter was able to track down a relative of the ultrasound “doctor.” The
      man, who refused to be identified, told Shanghai Daily that his brother uses a
      portable device and takes patients to rented rooms, shrouded park areas or even
      toilets for a fast scan. Those wanting an abortion are taken to a clinic, but
      neither the man nor any area merchants said they knew its location.

      fine if you take the scan only for reference,” the man said. “But I would think
      twice about having an abortion with my brother. People should go to hospitals
      for that.”

      Not much brotherly trust there.

      Ultrasound devices for
      veterinary use cost between 2,000 yuan and 8,000 yuan, and can be bought online
      without providing any medical credentials.

      It’s sometimes hard to fathom
      why some people would be so obsessed with baby gender that they would place
      themselves in the hands of charlatans.

      “We had a daughter but we still
      wanted to have a son,” said an Anhui Province vendor in the market surnamed

      Under China’s family-planning laws, urban couples are allowed to
      have a second child only under restricted conditions, such as both spouses
      coming from one-child families or a first child inflicted with a non-hereditary

      Shanghai has managed to prevent the births of about 7 million
      people since being one of the first batches of cities adopting the tough policy
      in the late 1970s, according to Shanghai Population and Family Planning

      The natural growth rate of people with registered residency
      has been kept on a negative curve since 1993.