China's One Child Policy

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Overview

Chinese family with one child at Beihai Park, Beijing

The One Child Policy, more formally known as the Family Planning Policy, was a government policy aimed at addressing the problems of overpopulation in China in the last half of the 20th century. The policy came into full effect in 1979, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, and has been gradually relaxed in recent years. Prior to its official implementation, the One Child Policy was preceded by another family planning program that emphasized on “‘Later, Longer, and Fewer’… [encompassing] later marriage, longer intervals between births, and fewer children”[1]

The main objective of reducing the population was reached, the One Child Policy led to more far-fetching consequences than initially imagined. The policy has moreover become the “largest and most extreme social experiment in population growth control via government intervention in human reproduction in world history” [2]. The family policy has been believed by the international community to be controversial, for the course of action constitutes an infringement upon individual rights due to its restrictive nature [3]. Furthermore, the One Child Policy has been thought to bring about a variety of demographic, cultural, economic, and social consequences” [3]. As a result of these consequences, there are still debates surrounding whether or not the One Child Policy should be considered successfu and effective.

On December 27, 2015 China incorporated a new family planning policy under the law that allows all married couples to have two children, known as the universal two-child policy.[4] This decision was adopted by the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), and came in effective on January 1st, 2016.[5][6] This officially ended the 40 years of One Child Policy in China and should be considered as a turning point for the Chinese Society. However, this does not mean that the One Child Policy has become a past topic. The consequences should still be further investigated, and critical discussions around this policy should continue.

Implementation & Enforcement

Implementation of the One Child Policy is carried out through local governmental authorities [1]. As a result, loopholes in implementation and enforcement have been frequently exposed, and little action has been taken by authorities to address these faults in the One Child Policy [7]. For example, the rich were able to give birth to a second child overseas, or simply by bribing local officials into allowing the additional childbirth [7].

A project of the central government, the policy was designed to “alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in the People’s Republic of China” [3]. One of the greatest benefits of addressing overpopulation would be relieving the strain on resources, for instance. In the post-Maoist era, China believed that addressing the problems of overpopulation would be addressing all subsequent problems, a belief that later proved to be faulty. Scholars such as Peng Xizhe have identified persuasion and education as the official methods of implementing the One Child Policy, as well as coercion, a controversial aspect that drew international attention [8]. China’s One Child Policy did encompass not only limitations on childbirths but also other various legal policies all aiming to achieve a mutual objective: to control the population. One of these included raising the legal marriage age in China, across its provinces and municipalities [3]. By delaying marriage, the Chinese government was attempting to delay the starting of a family as well.

There were also exceptions to the merciless One Child Policy, but few. For instance, if both parents were an only child, they were exempt from the One Child Policy [3]. The case is similar if the only child was born with a disability, rendering him or her incapable of becoming independent [3]. Furthermore, the Chinese government granted exceptions to the One Child Policy to ethnic minorities. In fact, ethnic minorities were not only exempt from reproducing; they were also encouraged to reproduce [3].

Enforcement of the One Child Policy was regarded to be harsh, and to certain extents even “draconian in nature” [3]. The most common form was a monetary penalty, which often could lead to a reduction in a substantial amount of income for the family [3]. Another equally extreme punishment measure, forced abortion, was performed, directly coming into conflict with human rights. The One Child Policy has traditionally been a “blunt violation of human rights and an intrusion into individuals’ and families’ reproductive freedom” as a result [9]. Finally, an implicit but lethal method of punishment was guilt-by-association, where the government would rely on in bringing a family to shame in front of their peers for violating the Family Planning Policy. On the other hand, enforcement was not always necessarily through punishing. Similarly, the One Child Policy was carried out through a reward program. Obedient citizens under the policy were recognized with additional benefits and welfare priorities, particularly those on to education, housing, health care, and employment [1].

Consequences

As aforementioned, numbers of consequences were brought about by the implementation of the One-Child Policy:

Demographic

Statistically, the One Child Policy achieved satisfactory results in reducing the population of China. The country now has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world [2] In the years following the Second World War, the population had increased from 541.67 million to 962.59 million over the span of thirty years [3]. Growing at such an alarming rate, the government of China implemented the One Child Policy in hopes of diffusing this “demographic time bomb”[3].

Over the years, the government has proven the effectiveness of this policy, as the One Child Policy prevented a “total of 400 million births between 1979 to 2009, almost 25% of China’s present population” [3]. The prevention of numbers of birth arises the issues of ages of a population on the other side. This low fertility rate creates the up-side-down pyramid that indicates the numbers of elder people increase, in contrast, numbers of young people decrease compared to the past. In other words, over the years, the numbers of elder people will be bigger than the young people in China. [10] It is too early to say determine whether the One Child Policy was successful or not; some scholars, in fact, argue that the policy has caused “demographic uncertainty" [9], for reasons to be discussed below.

Cultural

As a result of the One Child Policy, cultural consequences were exacerbated under patriarchal traditions. Cultural backlashes resulting from the One Child Policy were mainly due to traditional belief, where “more offspring [equates] family survival and prosperity, and national strength” [7]. In Chinese culture, only sons were valued and daughters were (and continue to be) regarded as inferior. For example, since the dynastic periods, polygamous marriages were permitted where men were permitted to marry multiple women, whereas if women had a relationship with multiple men, she would be committed of adultery and sentenced. Men are moreover valued above women because they continue the family line and are the only ones allowed to hold property rights. As a result of all of these cultural beliefs, the One Child Policy has increased the tendency for sex-selective abortion, or female infanticide to occur, due to these patriarchal traditions [3]. In relation, sex-selective abortions also lead to an imbalanced sex ratio in China, which encompasses further reaching consequences than simply labour shortages. Also, This imbalance of sex ratio arises the problem of rates of successful marriage between men and women. Since Chinese prefer male offspring, the numbers of women are abruptly decreased, especailly in rural areas. This issue brings that men will be struggling to find their wives in future. [11] [3]. One of the most prominent concerns arising from the One Child Policy is that “true restoration of natural sex proportions may never happen", to be discussed in the next section [12]. Birth tourism occuring in China due to the one child policy. Parents are seeking rights to give birth in other countries to have a second child or to receive a foreign passport. Hong kong has become one of the popular destination for birth tourism. Chinese citizens have easy access entering Hong Kong. Due to the amount of babies born in Hong Kong by Chinese citizen couples, Hong Kong has implemented higher hospital fees. Chinese couples also seek birth in North American countries, typically the United States or Canada. Although it is harder for foreign couples to give births in these countries, it is still made possible.

In addition to the social consequences mentioned above, One-Child Policy created what's called 'ghost children' in China. The ghost children are children who are not reported their birth on any kind of document, meaning that officially, they do not exist. Ghost children could not obtain a national identification card, a passport, or a bank account; they could not access basic medical services or public transportation and were unable to rent an apartment or work a legal job. [13] China’s 2010 census estimated that there were 13 million people without official documentation. [14] This has been a serious social issue, as the government cannot keep the proper track of their population in their country and there are massive number of population living in China without any care under the government. After the end of Old-Child Policy in 2015, the government is expecting a significant increase of the births reported officially.

Economic

One of the many detriments to the One Child Policy was its negative impact on the Chinese economy. As discussed earlier under demographic consequences, the One Child Policy sought to address the problem of a foreseeable labour shortage in the decades to come [3]. With present generations shrinking significantly in size compared to their grandparents, the incoming labour force was (and is still) insufficient to replace the aging, and exiting labour force.

Needless to say, overpopulation posed a “great threat to the country’s economic miracle” in the eyes of the leaders and, therefore, acted as the principal aim of the One Child Policy [3].

Social

Many social consequences resulted from the implementation of the One Child Policy. These social consequences have furthermore been applicable to both the parents and their children. From the parental perspective, the One Child Policy has been severely hindering their decisions regarding the family. Those who want to have several children risk severe financial consequences as a result of violating the policy, and are thus held back. Moreover, in the event of an early death of a child, the consequences are much harder to bear and cope with if he or she is an only child [3]. In addition, as the parents age, children who do not have another sibling to care for the elderly also may find it difficult without anyone sharing the responsibility of doing so[15]. The aging population is significantly problematic as China inhabits the largest elderly population in the world, according to statistics from the United Nations [7].

For the children, the social consequences are equally impacting. As an only child, many children raised under the One Child Policy were faced with the problem of “sibling deprivation” [16]. As a result of this deprivation from interacting with similar-aged peers in the household, the One Child Policy has been known to “produce significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic and less conscientious individuals” [16]. In addition, scholars such as Cameron, Erkal, Gangadharan, and Meng recognize the threat to children raised under this policy and believe these youth may develop into “Little Emperors”, individuals that become self-centered with a diminished intent to cooperate with others, because they view it as unnecessary [16]. As a result of this diminished cooperation, the One Child Policy paves the way for an increased tendency to violence, both internal and external [12]. Under the One Child Policy, children that are not the oldest within the family face greater challenges in securing social benefits, and are discriminated in a more severe manner as opposed to being what is perceived as the only "legitimate", or legally recognized, child [3]. The One Child Policy also gives rise to “black children”, which are unregistered births (usually female) concealed from the government in an attempt to escape the harsh penalties[17]. These children are therefore not considered legally legitimate and face a series of social and economic disadvantages. The prominence of these “black children” also leads to an increased tendency to adoption and orphanage [18]. Prices for adoptions in China has also increased due to the one child policy. Therefore, the lack of adopters has increased the size of most orphanages in China, making it hard to control [19]

Current Status

The one child policy was one-generation policy, which initially moved on to exist until now [20]. The enactment of the policy varies in the provincial level. The one child policy is comparably more powerful in the cities compare to the rural areas. In rural areas parents are allowed to have more than one child without penalties [21]. In 1987, a new policy has been introduced that allows particular parents to have second children if they are single children and one of the parents has difficulties [22]. In some provinces if the first child is daughter, the family could apply to have a second child [23]. Furthermore, if the child suffers from illness such as mental illness or physical disability, the parents can have more children [24]. As of 2015, a state news agency in Beijing has announced China will lift the one child policy due to the aging population and also the imbalance of female to male population [25]

The New Two Child Policy

On December 27, 2015 China incorporated a new family planning policy under the law that allows all married couples to have two children, known as the universal two-child policy.[26] This decision was adopted by the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), and came in effective on January 1st, 2016.[27][28] The decision was first announced on October 29th, 2015 by Communist Party after a four day party summit.[29][30]

The main concern that lead to this change is due to China's ageing population that could potentially jeopardize China's economic and social development.[31] Nonetheless, at this point it is still hard to determine how affective this new policy would be. Especially for large cities and urban centres, the high living and educational cost would discourage families to have a second child.[32] This new policy officially ended the 40 years of One Child Policy in China and should be considered as a turning point for the Chinese Society.

Conclusion

A series of problems other than overpopulation plagued China in the post-war years, yet the country felt that the implementation of the One Child Policy was seen as best fit to address these issues. The 1970’s, at the height of the “Later, Longer, and Fewer” policy was dubbed as the “‘golden age’ of China’s fertility transition” when the One Child Policy was first implemented; however, increasing pressures upon the aging population and imbalanced sex ratio eventually culminated into problems that are still valid today [33]. The root of the problem moreover was argued by many to be not overpopulation, but rather China’s slowing economic growth at the turn of the 20th century, despite opening up of the markets. Chinese citizens were caught under a crumbling, and centrally planned economy. [3] Such a familiar event echoes the same ones that contributed to the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

However, despite recognition of these errors, China ultimately carried through with a controversial, yet arguably effective, Family Planning Policy that led to important demographic, cultural, economic and social consequences for generations to come. The history of China is irreversible, and one knows that the One Child Policy undoubtedly reshaped the Chinese population. In the end, regardless of whether or not the policy was introduced, China is still faced with the problem of labour shortage in the future - what the One Child Policy has accomplished is merely slowing down the effect. Therefore, if there is no plausible solution to alleviate the impact of labour shortage, then China will eventually be running too fast and trip over its own feet from an inevitable slowdown.

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References

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