China: change in one-child policy?

By Victoria Samatova

“China has paid a huge political and social cost for the policy, as it has resulted in social conflict, high administrative costs and led indirectly to a long-term gender imbalance at birth,” Xinhua said, citing the report.

A Chinese government thinktank is urging the country’s leaders to start phasing out its one-child policy immediately and allow two children for every family by 2015, a daring proposal to do away with the unpopular policy.

Some demographers view the timeline put forward by the China Development Research Foundation as a bold move by a body close to the central leadership. Others warn that the gradual approach, if implemented, would still be insufficient to help correct the problems that China’s strict birth limits have created.

China introduced its one-child policy in 1978. It officially restricts married, urban couples to having only one child. Known to many as the one-child policy, China’s actual rules are more complicated. The government limits most urban couples to one child, while allowing exemptions for several cases, including rural couples – allowing two children if their firstborn is a girl, twins, ethnic minorities, and parents without any siblings themselves.

If we take a pick in the past to the origin of one-child policy its roots go back to 1960s when the Mao’s government encouraged families to have as many children as possible because of Mao’s belief that population growth empowered the country, preventing the emergence of family planning programs earlier in China’s development. The population grew from around 540 million in 1949 to 940 million in 1976. Beginning in 1970, citizens were encouraged to marry at later ages and have only two children. Although the fertility rate began to decline significantly, future population growth proved overwhelming and the one child policy was announced by Chinese leaders.

Though the government credits the policy with preventing hundreds of millions of births and helping lift countless families out of poverty, it is reviled by many ordinary people. The strict limits have led to forced abortions and sterilizations, even though such measures are illegal. Couples who flout the rules face hefty fines, seizure of their property and loss of their jobs.

Many demographers argue that the policy has worsened the country’s aging crisis by limiting the size of the young labor pool that must support the large baby boom generation as it retires. They say it has contributed to the imbalanced sex ratio by encouraging families to abort baby girls, preferring to try for a male heir.

The government recognizes those problems and has tried to address them by boosting social services for the elderly. It has also banned sex-selective abortion and rewarded rural families whose only child is a girl.

The opinion of Chinese people about the policy can be summed up in the following comment by Wang Yi, the owner of a shop that sells textiles online, under a news report on the proposal, “It has been 30 years since our planned economy was liberalized  So why do we still have to plan our population?”

Though open debate about the policy has flourished in state media and online, leaders have so far expressed a desire to maintain the status quo. President Hu said last year that China would keep its strict family planning policy to keep the birth rate low and other officials have said that no changes are expected until at least 2015.

Overall, it seems like as China’s economy is growing desire of Chinese people to have bigger families (or at least two children) is understandable and reasonable. But the government’s reluctance to give in and relax one-child policy can be justified by the fear of overwhelming population growth. Overall China’s one-child policy has been effective so far but it did worsen country’s aging crisis and contributed to the imbalanced sex ratio. It seems like now would be a good time for the government to start implementing some changes,, and new two children policy by 2015 seems to be a good place to start.

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