Is China capable of reversing its tragic one-child policy?

Last week, the Chinese Communist Party declared that all married couples will be permitted to have three children, ending a two-child policy that had failed to boost the country’s falling birth rates and avert a demographic crisis in the near future. The CCP’s declaration is a rare acknowledgement that the country’s prior reproduction laws, which were among the strictest in the world, had put the country’s future in jeopardy. After more than three decades of a Malthusian family planning system known as the one-child policy, Chinese authorities seek to create a baby boom in the face of a declining and ageing population.

In 2016, China abandoned its decades-old one-child policy favouring a two-child restriction, which has failed to result in a sustained increase in births. Many Chinese couples have been put off by the high cost of raising children in modern China. And yet again, family size limitations have been presented by central policy planners, and all married couples are allowed to have three children. There is a discussion of removing the restrictions entirely, and local officials are experimenting with subsidies and incentives for parents amid strong propaganda campaigns.

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President Xi Jinping authorised the latest action at a meeting of top Communist Party leaders. According to the Xinhua news agency, it would include “supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country’s population structure, fulfilling the country’s strategy of actively coping with an ageing population and maintaining the advantage, endowment of human resources.”

However, it appears that their efforts are too little, too late. Birth rates have declined and are anticipated to continue to decline as young parents choose not to have more children in the face of other pressing challenges within the nation. While improved education and income levels have delayed marriage and motherhood, more young women defy governmental propaganda and familial pressure. Experts claim that decades of one-child policies have made single-child homes the social norm within China.

The Tragedy of the One-Child Policy

China’s modern familial structure is partly due to the long-lasting trauma many Chinese households underwent during the first implementation of the one-child policy in the 1970s. China’s one-child policy was highly controversial, with the government being criticised for forcing women to have abortions and sterilisations. The Chinese government pushed many women to acquire IUDs and other kinds of birth control to combat overpopulation.

A Chinese family with a child born during the one-child policy was mandated to apply for a certificate of family planning services. The one-child policy was implemented through a form of “neighbourhood watch” reporting structure in communities and businesses due to the Chinese Communist Party’s broad reach and government-owned societal system.

Neighbours were encouraged to spy on one another and report any suspicions in exchange for a monetary incentive, thereby participating in a broader form of government-sanctioned cultural coercion. Better job possibilities, higher income, and state assistance were among the incentives or rewards offered to families that embraced the one-child policy.

Gender Imbalance

Because of a cultural predilection for male kids, one of the unintended consequences of the one-child policy is that China has the world’s most gender-imbalanced gender ratio in the world. In China, families choose to abort female pregnancies in favour of males, with this being further exacerbated during the one-child policy era. In China, abortion is legal, but sex-selective abortion is not. Although this has done little to quell the nation’s gender imbalance even now, In 2020, China recorded 114 boys for every 100 females born.

Ageing Population

China’s one-child policy has succeeded in decreasing the country’s birth rate. Still, it has also resulted in an ageing population that relies on their children for assistance when they are elderly and no longer working. In 2020, 17.4 percent of China’s population was over 60 years old; this percentage is expected to climb to 34.6 percent by 2050. Many Chinese families have expressed worries about the “4-2-1” family structure, which consists of four elderly adults, two parents, and only one kid, putting pressure on old-age supports in the future.

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Shrinking Workforce

As a result of population control, China’s workforce has drastically shrunk. For the past three years, the number of employees joining China’s total labour force has been falling, and this trend is projected to continue. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), China’s labour force shrank by 0.5 percent in 2018, marking the seventh consecutive year of decline. The modification and abolition of China’s one-child policy were prompted by the country’s growing senior population and shrinking workforce. China’s divisive one-child policy remains the most extensive government-led birth control initiative in history. The decline of the labour force in coming years is set to be a drag on economic growth and contribute to higher inflation globally, as the cost of goods rise

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China’s divisive birth-cap policies remain the most extensive government-led birth control initiatives in history. In some respects, these strategies have been successful: it is believed that they averted up to 400 million births and in recent years decreased the country’s unequal birth ratios to around 1.7 percent. However, these policies have had a number of consequences: China today has to deal with an ageing population, a declining workforce, and the scars inflicted on many families, particularly women, by its gender discriminating legislation and treatment of women’s bodies. Only the future can tell if new measures can reverse the tragic results of China’s one-child policy.

 

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Sean Barrett

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