Relaxing one-child policy a step forward

By Hannah Sparks

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Among other reforms, including the closing of “re-education through labor” camps, last week China officially relaxed its infamous one-child restriction, now allowing couples to have two children if one of the parents is an only child. Formerly, only couples in which both parents were only children were allowed such a luxury. The restrictions were practiced most strictly in urban areas; rural families were allowed to have a second child if the first was female.

The law was first introduced in 1979 and has, according to China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, prevented 400 million births, a number social scientists believe has been exaggerated, and which discounts the overall negative effects the policy has wrought. So, whatever effect you think this will have on the United States, global warming, over-population, or what have you – anywhere human rights and economic stability are concerned – this will be really good for China, and the world.

First, the numbers: The one-child policy has resulted in stark demographic imbalances in regards to age and gender. An article by the BBC shows that by 2050, a quarter of the Chinese population will be over the age of 65, which will have been directly caused by the one-child policy. In that year, younger people may have the burden of caring not only for their two parents, but also, if all of their grandparents are alive, four grandparents. This is known as the 4-2-1 phenomenon. And with no siblings to shoulder the burden, that presents an unsustainable economic picture that a more relaxed policy would alleviate.

Though ostensibly, the policy was initially created in order to check China’s burgeoning population. Inherent to the one-child system is a dramatic gender imbalance, which has serious implications for China’s future population. With the former policy, 120 males were being born for every 100 females, meaning that, by the end of the decade, there will be 24 million “leftover men” for whom there is, statistically, no female counterpart. This is the highest such discrepancy in the world.

Of course, it’s not the case that all Chinese men and women will pair off, or that every couple will want children. But having a drastic shortage of women (or, on the flip side, a huge overabundance of men), if unchanged, would have ill consequences for, to use a morbid term, China’s replacement rate. That would not only be somewhat strange (imagine a country in which half of the population is elderly) but it would also send China’s economy into shambles.

The one-child restriction also had more sinister implications than mere demographic shifts. Second children were denied access to state education and subsidized healthcare. Furthermore, families who broke the law could face heavy fines and lose their property or jobs, and some women were forced to undergo late-stage abortions. Feng Jianmei, a woman forced to abort seven months into her pregnancy, has received worldwide attention after a picture of her and the aborted fetus appeared online. She’s since received apologies from public officials, some of whom have been punished for their utter barbarism.

And, when coupled with the traditional desire for sons, the one-child restriction led to an even stronger preference for male babies. Many women undergo sex-selective abortions to ensure that their only child was a son. There are other stories of female babies being abandoned or, horrifyingly, even killed or otherwise left to die. The “invisible” killing of thousands or even millions of females (if you include sex-selective abortions, of which it is estimated that there may be up to a million each year) since the policy’s instatement is not only a serious human rights issue, but is also atrociously detrimental from a practical standpoint.

A society cannot grow if there are no women, not only for reproductive reasons, but also for productive reasons. Women represent 49 percent of China’s population and 46 percent of its workforce, a ratio higher than that of many Western nations.

China’s one-child policy was popular in the West when it was first implemented, though I can’t imagine Americans supporting any such policy for their own country. I can just imagine the Internet comments section quips now, about how nations bursting at the seams with people need these kinds of policies. And yes, maybe in a perfect world, broadly implemented population control could be a kind of utopian safety valve that would protect our natural resources and perhaps ensure extended human survival on the planet.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. Government-enforced and -endorsed population control means forced abortions, forced sterilizations and the denial of human rights to those unwanted second children, those unwanted daughters.

Statistics show that in developed nations in which there is increased access to and education about birth control and other reproductive health care, the birth rate naturally falls. So, if you want to talk about controlling the population, education, not coercion, is the place to start.

Hannah Sparks is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]