China Considering Changes to One Child Policy





After 36 years, China is considering further changes to its family planning laws, Premier Li Keqiang announced recently. The One Child policy was implemented under Deng Xiaoping in 1979 but, despite its designation as a “temporary measure” for just a single generation, is still in effect. The policy limits couples to producing just one child, to prevent wide scale overpopulation. Under the policy, the consequences of having a second non-government approved child includes fines, abortion and even sterilization in some cases. Under new provisions to the policy though, the consequence could be a monetary bonus. A decline in population, an increasingly disproportionate number of senior citizens, and a population skewed with more men than women has forced Chinese officials into making changes to the rule.

It is estimated that the One Child policy reduced population growth in China, a country of 1.3 billion people, by as much as 300 million in its first twenty years, according to USA Today. It has also fostered a preference for male babies and made abortion, neglect, abandonment and even infanticide fairly common for female infants. Because male children are preferred to carry on the family name and help with farm and other work, Yahoo News says there is an uneven ratio of 116 males for every 100 females in children aged newborn to four years old. A “natural” ratio would be 105 boys for every 100 girls.

In an attempt to correct some of these issues, and with millions of only children hitting young adulthood and nearing child bearing years, a provision was adopted in 2013 to allow couples who were both only children to legally have a second child. In 2014 the provision was expanded to allow any couple with even one parent who was an only child to have two children. Births did increase in 2014; up 470,000 from 2013. Even so, Yahoo News reports that China’s Premier, Li Keqiang, recently said the numbers aren’t as high as desired and officials are looking at new ways to tweak the policy, although he wouldn’t discuss what they may be. “Both the pros and cons will be weighed,” he said, adding that only legal “improvements and adjustments” would be made.

Currently, families in rural areas have legal permission to have a second child if the first is a girl. Couples who have lost their single child to an accident or illness are also usually allowed to reproduce again. That’s the case with approximately one million Chinese families. In some areas, the government has even started to provide help such as operations to reverse sterilization surgeries. For other families, the government has moderated its stance in recent years enough to provide education and support for alternative birth control methods other than the birth control pill, abortion and sterilization.

Data analysis indicates that births could swell by 1 million above the demographic trend in 2015. It hasn’t been an easy shift back toward a population increase though. Some couples are skeptical due to decades of conditioning that only one child is acceptable. While there is much criticism of the One Child policy both in China and around the world, a 2008 Pew Research Center survey reported that 76% of Chinese citizens support it.

Additionally, many said that financial costs discourage them from having more than one child. Red tape is another complication, with an extensive application process required to give birth to a second child. There are rewards for those who navigate the system. Many “eligible” couples receive a $1,600 “bonus” for second births in reward for their contribution toward achieving population control targets.

These targets can work the other way as well. Local officials who fail to decrease the population to the target numbers are threatened with demotion or removal from office. This pressure is passed on to the citizens. Local governments also rely on fines collected from couples who have more than one child, which make suggestions to abolish the One Child policy doubtful. Fines vary widely, depending on location and income, but range from a few thousand dollars to triple a couple’s annual combined incomes.

Anger over such fines caused rioting in 2007 in the southwestern Guangxi Autonomous Region of China, as reported by the New York Times. According to the accounts of villagers in the area, government officials went so far as to institute mandatory health checks for women and force abortion on some pregnant women who did not have approval to give birth. During four days of riots, protesters trashed and burned government offices, overturned vehicles, and clashed with riot police.

Policy provisions have loosened up significantly since then. The Australian reports that only about 36% of China’s population is actually subject to a strict one-child limit. While second children are much more common now, they are often subject to birth spacing with the additional child not allowed until three or four years after the birth of the first. Children born overseas are not counted by the policy if they do not seek Chinese citizenship, meaning that Chinese parents returning from abroad may have a second child. All in all, it’s estimated there are at least 22 different ways in which parents can be considered for exceptions to the One Child policy.

Photo courtesy of Wikispaces.com

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