The “one-child” policy comes to an end in China

By Isadora Linheira


On Thursday, Oct. 29, China announced it would allow all married couples to have two children, bringing an end to the “one-child” policy after 35 years.

The policy has been blamed for skewing the gender balance, forcing women to have unwanted abortions and creating a rapidly-aging workforce.

The decision was the most significant easing of strict population policies that were long considered some of the ruling Communist Party’s most onerous intrusions into family life and had been gradually relaxed in recent years. Many rural families and some urban ones already were able to have two children.

The party’s Central Committee stated that the decision was “to improve the balanced development of population” and to deal with an aging population. The official Xinhua News Agency said the proposal must be approved by the top legislature before it is enacted, which is essentially a formality. However, it gave no indication of when that would happen.

The first problem that comes to mind is the possible baby boom occurrence, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem for China, in part because fertility rates are believed to be declining even without the policy’s enforcement. As the policy was slightly relaxed previously, the one-child policy has spurred fewer births than expected, and the ideal of family for China’s young generation seems to have changed, with the smaller family as the new “normal.”

Demographers worry the change will not be in time to reverse the declining fertility rate, however.

In recent years, it has been unusual for such plenary sessions to result in major decisions. They generally focus on economic topics, and there was no indication that this one would take action on the one-child policy.

To have a better understanding, China has the world’s largest population at 1.4 billion people, which made the country introduce the one-child policy in 1979 as a temporary measure to curb a then-surging population and limit the demands for water and other resources. Soon after it was implemented, rural couples were allowed two children, only if their firstborn was a girl. Ethnic minorities were also allowed more than one child.

The sad reality also came with the one-child policy for many Chinese families who have a strong preference for boys to abort female fetuses, in order to have a chance to have their baby boys, since they were prohibited to have more than one child. Such practice has upset the ratio of male to female babies. China has rates of up to 115 boys per 100 girls at birth – compared with what are considered normal rates at birth of about 107 boys to 100 girls.

The imbalance also brings another social issue; it makes it difficult for some men to find wives, and is believed to fuel the trafficking of women as brides to China.

The couples who broke the rules were punished by being forced to pay a fee in proportion to their income, which in some cases caused rural families to see their livelihood in the form of their pigs and chickens taken away. Local family planning officials also are accused of pressuring couples to consent to abortions or sterilization, or threatened them with the loss of their jobs if they worked as teachers or in other public sector jobs.

Amnesty International said Chinese women remain at risk of forced abortions and intrusive forms of contraception. “The move to change China’s one-child policy is not enough. Couples that have two children could still be subjected to coercive and intrusive forms of contraception, and even forced abortions – which amount to torture,” William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Back in November 2013, the Communist Party announced it would allow couples to have two children if one of the parents was a single child. However, with the implementation of the new decision, all the restrictions limiting couples to have only one child will be removed. According to many Chinese citizens the end of the policy is a proof of respect towards citizens. They believe it must be a private decision of the families to decide how many children they want to have, and their wish must be respected.

The government credits the one-child policy with preventing 400 million births and helping lift countless families out of poverty by easing the strain on the country’s limited resources. On the other hand, many demographers argue the birthrate would have fallen anyway as China’s economy developed and education levels rose.
The fall in the birthrate has pushed up the average age of the population and demographers foresee a looming crisis because the policy reduced the young labor pool that must support the large baby boom generation as it retires.

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