And then there were two: China moves to ease one child policy
Most Chinese people of a certain age can effortlessly reel off a ditty Communist Party officials devised to help sell the ambitious one child policy: “It’s good to only have one child; we advocate late marriage, late birth, good-quality birth, and good-quality child-nurturing.”
Now, a reform-minded think thank with close ties to the central government is hoping policymakers will persuade parents to sing a two-child tune. A loose alliance of academics and former officials has led the charge to gradually revoke the one child policy, which they claim has resulted in a rapidly aging population, a shrinking labour force and a skewed gender ratio.
As China’s political elite meets in Beijing to select the country’s rulers for the next decade, the signs are that the new leaders are preparing to gradually move away from the policy.
Firstly, some history. The policy was presented in 1980 as a necessary, temporary measure that would benefit the country’s modernisation drive by reducing demand for limited resources. The policy was effectively implemented in urban centres, less so in rural areas. Many groups are exempt from the rule, including ethnic minorities and rural families whose first child was a girl (the one-and-a-half-child policy).
Opponents of the policy say that 63% of Chinese couples are limited to just one child; officials put this figure at closer to 36%. The official line today is that the policy prevented 400 million births over 30 years, helped lift millions out of poverty and has limited China’s carbon emissions.
Though never exactly popular, many Chinese resigned themselves to accepting the strict measures as a means to achieving a laudable national goal. In 2008, the Pew Research Center polled a representative sample of over 3000 people in China; about 76% of respondents approved the policy. But given recent revelations of abuses, support has waned. In a recent unscientific online poll hosted on Sina.com, over 80% of almost 300,000 respondents supported the recent report’s call for a gradual introduction of a two-child policy.
The modern-day advocates pushing for change are younger internationally-trained demographers and economists, plus some former family planning officials. They are up against a coalition of older academics, often with Marxist backgrounds, and officials from the Family Planning Commission.
“Then there’s the high cost of employing more than 500,000 full-time staff to administer the one child policy.”
Those pushing for reform have filed petitions and submitted motions to the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. They say China needs to readjust its policies to manage the risks posed by a rapidly aging society; the number of young workers will soon shrink, which will mark the end of what economists have often referred to as the country’s “demographic dividend” — a population structure that provided many new young workers.
Objections have long been raised by lawyers and human rights activists who have said that the policy led to abuses including, in some extreme cases, forced abortions and sterilisations. Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal advisor who fled home arrest in his village in Shandong to the US embassy in Beijing earlier this year, first earned the ire of officials when he offered legal advice to families that had claimed they were victims of over-zealous implementation of family planning policies. Another high-profile case involving a woman who was pressured into having a late-term abortion played out across the country’s blossoming social media platforms this Chinese summer.
In the past, when the media was more strictly controlled and before widespread internet access, many were unaware of the excesses that occurred at the local level as officials did everything in their power to meet population targets. Caixin, a well-regarded investigative business magazine, uncovered what it said was evidence of family planning officials abducting children from families that had broken the rules, to sell to orphanages.
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