China’s Two-Child Policy

7 months ago Alger Mag Editor 0

During the summer of 2015, China shocked the world by finally repealing their controversial One-Child policy and replacing it with a new, more lenient two-child rule. This decision was instantly met with a wave of emotions; some were overjoyed with the replacement of this restrictive rule, while others were upset that it was not abolished soon enough. China is currently burdened with a large aging demographic, leaving officials with no other option but to implement a new law to aid a struggling economy. While the Two-Child regulation might seem like a progressive step, it will not solve the demographic and economic problems officials strive to fix anytime soon.

The One-Child policy was first introduced to the Chinese public in the late 1970s, amid concerns over a rapidly growing population and population density. The Chinese government was concerned that the growth could potentially overwhelm the country’s economy since China was still relatively underdeveloped during the late 20th century. But even before the central government started getting more involved with family planning affairs, some smaller government offices were already beginning to encourage married couples to only have one child. However, their actions were not strictly enforced. Since the government’s main goal was to reduce the population growth, it also supplemented other provisions along with the One-Child Policy – such as mandating couples to use birth control as their duty.

In order to hold a proper discussion over this one-child restriction, it is important to understand what it consisted of. First and foremost, the basis of this rule meant that married couples were only allowed to have one child. In rural areas, families had a bit more leniency and were allowed two children instead. In some cases, if the first child was a girl, they were also permitted to have another child. Punishments for illegally having another birth were harsh, including crippling fines that most Chinese families could not afford. If the fines were not paid, then the extra child was essentially stripped of all of his or her rights as a Chinese citizen.

The true controversy underlying the policy lies in it abuse of human rights, subjecting citizens to suffering. Women in particular bore the brunt of most of these abuses, particularly when it regarded reproductive rights. In certain cases, women who became illegally pregnant in rural areas were forced to go through abortions against their will – sometimes even late-term. These abortions were performed to make local officials look better in the eyes of the central
government by efficiently carrying out the rules. Similarly, forced sterilizations exemplified the violation of female reproductive rights as the government usurped a woman’s control over her own body. There was also a rise in the number of baby girls sold on the black market due to parents having bias for boys over girls. At one point, around 80 percent of trafficked babies in China were girls. The One-Child Policy’s primary purpose was to curb population growth, but with such a repressive policy it was no surprise that the abuse of human rights emerged.

Amidst the controversy over the social abuses, the Chinese government actually made concessions before the complete abolition of the One-Child restriction. One such concession was to allow some married couples to have more than one child as long as one of the spouses was an only child. But, this relaxation in policy contributed to the arbitrary exceptions that already existed, so it did not make a huge difference with previous concessions that were already included in the law from previous decades. Finally, in 2015 Chinese officials officially declared an ending to the One-Child Policy, switching over to the new Two-Child Policy.

What were some of the factors that finally prompted the Chinese government to change the status quo after decades of the policy’s existence? The biggest reasons were most likely economic-based. With a shrinking workforce of young individuals and a rapidly aging population, more people were leaving the workforce than entering it. China had the highest annual GDP rate for several years, but recently their economic growth has considerably slowed down. While the One-Child Policy was undoubtedly successful in the beginning at curbing population growth, it accomplished its job perhaps too well when it led to a skewed population demographic. Because China’s retiring population is currently at an all-time high, the older generations are putting a heavy strain on the government’s welfare system which has to compensate this sector of Chinese citizens. Along with a shortage of young people to contribute to the workforce, it made sense that the Chinese economy was starting to hit the brakes quickly.

China also faces another potential problem with an increasing number of bachelors. Since most traditional families prefer sons over daughters, they would abort female fetuses in order to have a boy. As a result, China now has around 30 million more boys than girls. Such an unbalanced demographic means that a significant portion of men will not be able to marry and raise families in a traditional family setting, further exacerbating the issue of a lack of future population growth.

After switching over to the Two-Child Policy, Chinese officials are hoping to stimulate a population boom to benefit the economy. However, since the One-Child Policy’s effects have been so deeply ingrained, there probably will not be much progress in the foreseeable future. China’s birth rate will not be expected to rise at a dramatic rate, and its current birth rate of 1.6 is not nearly enough to adequately replace and increase the numbers of previous generations.

In terms of social values, most households prefer having only one child in current Chinese society. Especially in urban areas, many couples believe that it is too expensive to raise two children since China’s living rates are already extremely expensive. And since the current generation is used to growing up in a single-child household, they feel no need to change their attitudes and raise a second child just because the policy has changed.

The concept of a modern Chinese woman has also changed as urban areas shift away from traditional norms of a woman’s role in the household. China was still economically undeveloped when it first implemented the One-Child Policy, and when countries are undeveloped women tend to have more children. But since China has undergone tremendous economic progress, women have more educational and economic opportunities that disincentivizes them to have more children. As of right now, Chinese officials are grasping at straws and being too optimistic about their chances of fixing China’s economic slowdown in the short-term.

At least one benefit of the Two-Child Policy is returning women’s reproductive rights and alleviating all of the horrific human rights abuses that occurred under the original policy. But if the government truly wanted to compensate the losses and griefs of all the families that suffered under the law, then they would have to implement more change than just the law. The One-Child Policy just might be one of China’s biggest blunders in the country’s history, potentially jeopardizing its future economically, politically, and socially.

by: Shiyuan Wang

photo credit: Arian Zwegers/Flickr Creative Commons