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China’s One-Child Policy Essay

Officials say that China’s family planning policy has prevented approximately 400 million births since being initiated in 1979. [1] Being that the main goal of China’s one-child policy was to reduce the number of children being born each year, it would seem that indeed the policy has been effective. However, some would challenge that the policy, in both principle and practice, has violated basic human rights. [2] To obtain a clear understanding of this debate, a few different angles need to be examined.

Firstly, the history of the family planning law will be discussed thoroughly to address the government’s decision to implement such a law. It is important to have an appreciation for the very serious issues regarding the expanding population of China. Secondly, the one-child policy itself will be explained to provide information on the rules, regulations, implementations, and exemptions of the policy. Thirdly, and perhaps most advantageous to determining the success of the policy, the pros-and-cons of the family planning law will be examined.

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Lastly, the future of the policy in China will be investigated. Has the one-child policy been so successful that the government will keep it in place, unchanged? Or will the government relax the rules of the policy now that the policy has been in place for 30 years? In the decades before the one-child policy, the mean number of children born per woman in China was a staggering 5. 9. [3] As a result of the high fertility rate combined with falling death rates, the population growth rate rose to 2. percent, leading to some 250 million additional people by 1970. After a century of rebellions, wars, epidemics, and the collapse of imperial authority, during which the annual population growth was probably no more than 0. 3 percent, such an expansion was initially seen as part of China’s new strength, and the beginning of a new century of prosperity. The rapid growth, however, put a strain on the government’s efforts to meet the needs of its people and the government feared the impact the expanding population could have on the economy.

The demand of natural resources was becoming too high, it was increasingly difficult to maintain a steady labour rate, unemployment was expanding at an alarming rate, and the rate of exploitation was growing. The rapidly increasing population also caused a large environmental impact that was bound to get worse in the following decades. China needed to reduce its ecological footprint in order to reduce the strain on its ecological resources. [4] In and around the 1970’s the Chinese government promoted a “later, longer, fewer” campaign.

This campaign encouraged couples to wait until the later years to marry and reproduce, to wait longer periods between reproducing, and to reproduce less. To achieve this, the government extended contraceptive and abortion services into the rural areas. In addition, each administrative unit of the government introduced a target population and a proposed growth rate, commonly around 1 percent. The government discussed ways to modify its target population’s fertility behaviour, and when necessary, took action to do so.

At a local level the government offered collective incomes, allocation of funds for health care, welfare, and schools to those families who took action to abide by the new “later, longer, fewer” campaign. The “later, longer, fewer” campaign helped to reduce China’s population growth rate to around 1. 8 percent by 1975. But because half of the population was under the age of 21, government statisticians realized that further growth was inevitable even if each family was quite small. If current trends persisted, there could be 1. 4 billion people living in China by the end of the century. 5] It was clear that the government needed to take more drastic measures to guarantee a prosperous future for China. The government implemented the one-child policy in 1979 in hopes of curtailing the population to around 1. 2 billion by the year 2000, thus improving the economic, environmental, and social conditions in China. The government had originally claimed that the policy was a short-term measure and that the goal was to move toward a “voluntary small-family culture. ”[6] The rules and regulations of the one-child family planning policy vary depending upon circumstance.

The general regulations include restrictions on family size, late marriage and childbearing, and the spacing of children (in cases in which a second child is permitted). The goal was to eliminate the third and higher order births with hopes that at least 30 percent of couples would agree to forgo a second child. [7] It was well understood that the majority of the population would probably never meet the one-child family ideal, even though it was obvious that the sacrifice of a second or third child was necessary for the sake of future generations.

To encourage couples to have only one child, the government offered a package of financial and other incentives, such as preferential access to housing, schools and health services. [8] As is presented in the Chinese Government’s “Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China” to facilitate family planning, the State established and improved the social security system covering the basic old-age insurance, basic medical insurance, childbearing insurance, and welfare benefits.

The State also offered to its citizens who married late and delayed childbearing the entitlement to longer nuptial and maternity leaves or other similar welfare benefits. Couples who volunteer to have only one child in their lifetime are issued a “Certificate of Honor for Single-Child Parents” that entitles them to rewards in accordance with the relevant regulations of the province. The government also helped rural households with family planning and gave them support and preferential treatment in terms of funds, technology, and training.

Poverty stricken households that practiced family planning were also given priority in terms of poverty-alleviation loans, relief through work, and social assistance. [9] Despite its name, the one-child rule applies to a minority of the population; for urban residents and government employees, the policy is strictly enforced, with few exceptions. The exceptions include families in which the first child has a disability or both parents work in high-risk occupations, or are themselves from one-child families (in some cases). 0 percent of the population live in rural areas and in these areas a second child is generally allowed after five years. This provision sometimes applies only if the first child is a girl – a clear acknowledgement of the traditional preference for boys. A third child may be allowed among ethnic minorities and in remote, under-populated areas. [10] Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, a limited exception to the regulations was announced in Sichuan province for parents who had lost children in the earthquake. 11] The implementation of the one-child policy has been a much discussed and often criticized topic. In some of the densely populated and most advanced cities, large proportions of couples already chose to have only one child. Typically, both adults of the family had to work long hours to make enough money to survive and because convenient household items such as refrigerators were unavailable, tasks like shopping and cooking were also time consuming daily activities. In addition, the housing allocation in 1977 was only 3. 6m? per person. 12] In most families, at least one member would be employed in the state sector and therefore susceptible to government direction. As a result, it was not long before 90 percent of urban couples were persuaded to restrict their families to a single child. Rural families, on the other hand were more difficult to persuade and the government felt it needed to use stronger tactics to implement the policy. Because peasants had limited savings and no pensions, children were needed to support them in old age. Since married daughters moved into their husband’s families, a son, and preferably more than one son, was essential. 13]In order to enforce the policy, local authorities were forced to implement fines for higher order births. The social fostering or maintenance fee (pinyin: shehui fuyang fei) sometimes called in the West a “family planning fee”, is collected as a multiple of either the annual disposable income of city dwellers or the annual cash income of peasants as determined each year by the local statistics office. A fine for a child born 5 years ago would be based on the income estimate for the year of the child’s birth and not of the current year.

The families would also have to pay for all of their children to go to school and all the family’s health care and may also be denied bonuses at their workplace. [14] Some of the criticism of the one-child policy comes from claims that local authorities have forced women and men to have sterilization procedures as a way to keep the birth rate down to what is determined as an acceptable number. For the majority of women, no choice in contraception is offered; 80 percent of women in a recent large study said they were given no choice and just accepted the method of contraceptive offered by the family-planning worker. 15] In the policy’s earlier years a considerable amount of women were bullied into abortions for high order births. It has been reported that women as far along as 8 months pregnant have been forced to abort the child. There have also been reports where women, in their 9th month of pregnancy or who were already in labour, had their fetus killed while still in the birth canal or immediately after birth. Further appalling acts have been permitted through the use of ultra-sound devices to identify the sex of the fetus. This has resulted in an alarming number of sex-selective abortions.

Those who live in rural communities, if not forced by local family planning workers, often make the choice to have abortions and sterilization procedures because they simply can not afford the social-compensation fee, which as noted above, ranges from half of the local average income to ten times that. In 2002 China outlawed the use of physical force to make a woman submit to an abortion or sterilization, but unfortunately, it is not entirely enforced. [16] It seems that eventually the family planning workers within villages were caught between the state’s demands and the determination of their friends and neighbours.

Gradually villagers developed a process of negotiation and compromise, which allowed a degree of flexibility within the policy. The pros of the one-child policy are often not as prevalently discussed in the media as the cons. It must be noted that the policy has accomplished a great many and wondrous things for China. Foremost, the one-child policy has been successful at curtailing China’s population during the last three decades. Chinese authorities claim that the family-planning law has prevented approximately 300 to 400 million births.

Nonetheless, the census in the year 2000 put the population of China at 1. 27 billion, which is not far from the target population of 1. 2 billion which was set when the policy was first implemented. [17] This success has definitely had an impact on social programs and childbearing attitudes. The government has been able to provide a better health service for women and the risks of death and injury associated with pregnancy has been improved. At family planning offices, women receive free contraception and pre-natal classes. Help is provided for pregnant women to closely monitor their health.

In various regions in China, the government has also been able to introduce a “Care for Girls” program, which aims at eliminating cultural discrimination against girls in rural and underdeveloped areas by offering subsidies and education. Many people have changed their attitudes about childbearing due to the success of the one-child policy. Some people have accepted the policy and consider that one child is enough. It has even been reported that in some cities, Shanghai for example, have seen negative population growth, although some argue this may be a statistical error. 18] The one-child family planning policy has also allowed for an increased savings rate amongst families in two respects. First, the average Chinese household expends fewer resources, both in terms of time and money, on children, which gives many Chinese more money with which to invest. Second, since young Chinese can no longer rely on children to care for them in their old age, there is an incentive to save money for the future. The success of the population control has lessened the impact on the environment and has also caused economic growth.

Because there has been a reduction in the strain on ecological resources, China’s total ecological footprint has been decreased. China is also experiencing a steady labour rate, a reduction in unemployment, and a reduction in the rate of exploitation. Another positive result of the policy that is often overlooked but that is very important is the increased involvement of women in the labour force. Women in China have traditionally been the primary caregivers for children but now with fewer children, they have more time to invest in their careers, increasing both their personal wealth and the national GDP. 19] Women in China’s past have often been discriminated against, being seen as having little importance past bearing and caring for children. They now have the chance to leave the home and care for themselves. They are able to acquire an independence that was at one point impossible, given their traditional role in the home. There are many cons of the one-child policy that have been widely debated. As Hesketh, Lu, and Xing observe: The policy itself is probably only partially responsible for the reduction in the total fertility rate.

The most dramatic decrease in the rate actually occurred before the policy was imposed. Between 1970 and 1979, the largely voluntary “late, long, few” policy, which called for later childbearing, greater spacing between children, and fewer children, had already resulted in a halving of the total fertility rate, from 5. 9 to 2. 9. These researchers note further that China could have expected a continued reduction in its fertility rate just from continued economic development, had it kept to the previous campaign. [20] One of the prevalent arguments against the one-child policy is the violation of human rights.

As mentioned above, reported abuses in its enforcement include bribery, coercion, forced sterilization, forced abortion, and possibly infanticide. Although China has outlawed the use of physical force to make a woman submit to an abortion or sterilization, many local governments still demand abortions if the pregnancy violates local regulations. It is many people’s view that it is the right of the individual, not the state, to determine the number of children and that the right to “found a family” is protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [21]

Another con of the policy is a problem referred to as the “Four-Two-One” problem. As the policy begins to near it’s next generation, one adult child is left with having to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents. Traditionally it is the children of the family who support their parents and grandparents but with only one child in the family, this responsibility falls solely on his or her shoulders. If personal savings, pensions, or state welfare should fail, then most senior citizens would be left entirely dependent upon their very small family or neighbours for support.

If a child cannot care for their parents and grandparents or as in an increasing amount of situations, the child does not stay living in the country of China, the oldest generation could find itself destitute. [22] Perhaps the most widespread argument against the one-child policy is the side effects on the female population of China. Since China has a long tradition of son preference many argue that the policy causes families, especially those in rural areas, to use sex selective abortion, abandon female infants, and even kill or starve female infants and then try again for a male child.

A commonly accepted explanation for son preference is that sons may be thought to be more helpful in farm work, although both rural and urban populations have traditional incentives, including Confucian ideals, to prefer sons to daughters. According to the State Planning and Population Commission, there will be 30 million more men than women in 2020, potentially leading to social instability. The shortage of women may have increased mental health problems and socially disruptive behaviour among men and has left some men unable to marry and have a family.

The scarcity of females has also led to kidnapping and trafficking of women for marriage and increased numbers of commercial sex workers. [23] Another problem with the abandonment of undesirable Chinese girls is that they are put in state-sponsored orphanages, which are often less than ideal living conditions. The government has to pay support for these children, which in turn, has a negative effect on the economy of China, and on the emotional and physical well being of the girls. The future of China’s one-child policy was reviewed in 2005. The Chinese overnment is facing an important challenge: the need to balance the basic human right of reproduction with population growth, which, despite the policy’s success, is still increasing at a rate of 10 million people per year. It has been proposed that relaxation of the policy can be considered only if fertility aspirations are such that a baby boom will not result. There is good evidence that China is becoming a small-family culture, as was one of the goals of the policy when it was first implemented in 1979. In a recent survey it was shown that very few women, an average of only 5. percent wanted more than two children. [24] The evidence of slowing population growth, the high sex ratio, the increasing number of elderly people, and the risks associated with avoidance of medical care by women with unapproved pregnancies suggest that a relaxation of the one-child policy would be desirable. Several options for the future have been suggested. One possibility is that couples could be allowed to have two children, with a space of at least five years between them. It has been predicted that this option would yield a total fertility rate of 1. during the next two decades, which would help to normalize the sex ratio, reduce the “Four-Two-One” phenomenon, and be acceptable to the majority of people. The government still feels that vigilance is essential so that the goal of keeping the population below 1. 4 billion by 2010 is not compromised. It was decided in 2005 that the policy would remain in effect until at least 2010 and that there would be no fundamental policy changes. However, certain aspects of policy implementation have been relaxed. For example, couples are to be allowed choice in contraceptive methods as part of client-centered family-planning services.

Furthermore, couples do not need to obtain permission to have a first child, a move that signifies the end of local birth quotas. [25] These changes, together with declining fertility aspirations, have reduced the tensions associated with the government’s efforts to control population growth and have allowed the government to adopt a gradual approach to relaxing the one-child family policy. The one-child policy can mostly be considered a success, as it certainly allowed the government control over the expanding population, and therefore has lleviated the economic, social, and environmental problems associated with a population of that size. There have clearly been problems associated with the implementation of the policy as noted above, but the Chinese government is taking a more responsible approach to population growth that now centres on the welfare of its people. If the government follows through with the slightly more relaxed one-child policy then the living conditions of China should improve further. For a country that carries one fifth of the world’s population, that is a tremendous feat. ———————– [1] Michael Bristow, “Has China’s one-child policy worked? BBC News, September 2007 (11 September 2008). p. 1. [2] Wikipedia contributors, “One-child policy,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopaedia, September 2008 (11 September 2008). p. 1. [3] Therese Hesketh, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing, “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” The New England Journal of Medicine, September 2005 (9 September 2008). p. 1172. [4] Wikipedia contributors, “One-child policy,” p. 4 [5] Penny Kane and Ching Y Choi, “China’s one-child family policy,” BMJ, October 1999, vol. 319, p. 992. [6] Hesketh, Lu, and Xing, “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” p. 1171 [7] Ibid. p. 172 [8] Kane and Choi, “China’s one-child family policy,” p. 993. [9] December 2001, (11 September 2008). p. 4-5. [10] Hesketh, Lu, and Xing, “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” p. 1173 [11] Wikipedia contributors, “One-child policy,” p. 2. [12] Hesketh, Lu, and Xing, “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” p. 1174. [13] Kane and Choi, “China’s one-child family policy,” p. 994. [14] Wikipedia contributors, “One-child policy,” p. 2. [15] Hesketh, Lu, and Xing, “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” p. 1174. [16] Wikipedia contributors, “One-child policy,” p. . [17] Hesketh, Lu, and Xing, “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” p. 1174. [18] Kane and Choi, “China’s one-child family policy,” p. 994. [19] Wikipedia contributors, “One-child policy,” p. 4. [20] “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” p. 1172. [21] Wikipedia contributors, “One-child policy,” p. 6. [22] Hesketh, Lu, and Xing, “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” p. 1174. [23] Hesketh, Lu, and Xing, “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” p. 1173 [24] Ibid. p. 1174. [25] Kane and Choi, “China’s one-child family policy,” p. 994.

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