One-child policy

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One-child policy
Chinese family with one child at Beihai Park, Beijing.jpg
A one-child Chinese family at a park in Beijing
Traditional Chinese 計劃生育政策
Simplified Chinese 计划生育政策
Literal meaning family planning policy

The family planning policy, known as the one-child policy in the West[1] is a population control policy of the People's Republic of China. The term "one-child" is a misnomer, as the policy allows many exceptions and ethnic minorities are exempt. In 2007, 35.9% of China's population was subject to the one-child restriction.[2] The policy is enforced at the provincial level through fines that are imposed based on the income of the family and other factors. "Population and Family Planning Commissions" (计划生育委员会) exist at every level of government to raise awareness and carry out registration and inspection work.[3]

The policy was introduced in 1979 to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China.[4] Demographers estimate that the policy averted at least 200 million births between 1979 and 2009.[5] A 2008 survey undertaken by the Pew Research Center reported that 76% of the Chinese population supports the policy;[6] however, it is controversial outside China for many reasons, including accusations of human rights abuses in the implementation of the policy, as well as concerns about negative social consequences.[7]

Overview[edit]

Population in China
Year Million Change Change / year
1964 694.6 ------- -------
1982 1008.2 + 313.6 + 17.42
2000 1265.8 + 257.6 + 14.31
2010 1339.7 + 73.9 + 7.39
Source: Census of China
Population of China, showing growth despite the one-child policy

History[edit]

During the period of Mao Zedong's leadership in China, the crude birth rate fell from 37 to 20 per thousand,[8] infant mortality declined from 227/1000 births in 1949 to 53/1000 in 1981, and life expectancy dramatically increased from around 35 years in 1948 to 66 years in 1976.[8][9] Until the 1960s, the government encouraged families to have as many children as possible[10] because of Mao's belief that population growth empowered the country, preventing the emergence of family planning programs earlier in China's development.[11] The population grew from around 540 million in 1949 to 940 million in 1976.[12] Beginning in 1970, citizens were encouraged to marry at later ages and have only two children.

Although the fertility rate began to decline significantly, the Chinese government observed the global debate over a possible overpopulation catastrophe suggested by organisations such as Club of Rome and Sierra Club. While visiting Europe in 1978 one of the top Chinese officials, Song Jian, got in touch with influential books of the movement, The Limits to Growth and A Blueprint for Survival. With a group of mathematicians, Song determined the "correct" population of China to be 700 million. A plan was prepared to reduce the China's population to the desired level by 2080, with the one child policy as one of the main instruments of social engineering.[13] In spite of some criticism inside the party, the plan was officially adopted in 1979.[14][15][16]

Administration[edit]

The policy was managed by the National Population and Family Planning Commission under the central government since 1981. The Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China and the National Health and Family Planning Commission were made defunct and a new single agency National Health and Family Planning Commission took over national health and family planning policies in 2013. The agency reports to the State Council.

Current status[edit]

The one-child policy was designed from the outset to be a one-generation policy.[17] It is enforced at the provincial level and enforcement varies; some provinces have relaxed the restrictions. After Henan loosened the requirement, the majority of provinces and cities[18][19] permit two parents who were 'only children' themselves to have two children. In rural areas, families are allowed two children without incurring penalties.[20] The one-child limit has mostly been enforced in densely populated urban areas, and implementation varies from location to location.[21] Beginning in 1987, official policy granted local officials the flexibility to make exceptions and allow second children in the case of "practical difficulties" (such as cases in which the father is a disabled serviceman) or when both parents are single children,[22] and some provinces had other exemptions worked into their policies as well. In most areas, families are allowed to apply to have a second child if their first-born is a daughter[23] or suffers from physical disability, mental illness, or intellectual disability.[24] Second children may be subject to birth spacing (usually 3 or 4 years). Children born in overseas countries are not counted under the policy if they do not obtain Chinese citizenship. Chinese citizens returning from abroad are allowed to have a second child.[25] Sichuan province has allowed exemptions for couples of certain backgrounds.[26] By one estimate there are now at least 22 ways in which parents can qualify for exceptions to the law.[20] As of 2007, only 35.9% of the population were subject to a strict one-child limit. 52.9% were permitted to have a second child if their first was a daughter; 9.6% of Chinese couples were permitted two children regardless of their gender; and 1.6%—mainly Tibetans—had no limit at all.[27]

The Danshan, Sichuan Province Nongchang Village people Public Affairs Bulletin Board in September 2005 noted that RMB 25,000 in social compensation fees were owed in 2005. Thus far 11,500 RMB had been collected leaving another 13,500 RMB to be collected.

Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, a new exception to the regulations was announced in Sichuan province for parents who had lost children in the earthquake.[28][29] Similar exceptions have previously been made for parents of severely disabled or deceased children.[30] People have also tried to evade the policy by giving birth to a second child in Hong Kong, but at least for Guangdong residents, the one-child policy is also enforced if the birth was given in Hong Kong or abroad.[31]

In accordance with China's affirmative action policies towards ethnic minorities, all non-Han ethnic groups are subjected to different laws and are usually allowed to have two children in urban areas, and three or four in rural areas. Han Chinese living in rural towns are also permitted to have two children.[32] Because of couples such as these, as well as urban couples who simply pay a fine (or "social maintenance fee") to have more children,[33] the overall fertility rate of mainland China is close to 1.4 children per woman.[34]

The Family Planning Policy is enforced through a financial penalty in the form of the social maintenance fee (simplified Chinese: 社会抚养费; traditional Chinese: 社會撫養費; pinyin: shèhuì fǔyǎngfèi), sometimes called a "family planning fine" in the West, which is collected as a fraction of either the annual disposable income of city dwellers or of the annual cash income of peasants, in the year of the child's birth.[35] In 2007, the formula for figuring the amount of the fine for a "private enterprise boss" was as follows: For an income of 200,000 yuan per year, the maximum social child-raising fee would be 20,000 × 6 + (200,000 – 20,000) × 2 = 480,000 yuan (about US$63,763) and a minimum 20,000 × 3 + (200,000 – 20,000) × 1 = 240,000 yuan (US$31,884). Both members of the couple would need to pay a fine, although it was left unclear whether they both would pay the same amount.[36]

Effects[edit]

Reduction of the birthrate[edit]

An April 2007 study taken by the University of California, Irvine, which claimed to be the first systematic study of the policy, found that it had proved "remarkably effective".[37] After the introduction of the one-child policy, the fertility rate in China fell from 2.63 births per woman in 1980 (already a sharp reduction from more than five births per woman in the early 1970s) to 1.61 in 2009.[38] The Chinese government, quoting Zhai Zhenwu, director of Renmin University's School of Sociology and Population in Beijing, estimates that 400 million births were prevented by the one-child policy as of 2011. Zhai clarified that the 400 million estimate referred not just to the one-child policy, but includes births prevented by predecessor policies implemented one decade before, stating that "there are many different numbers out there but it doesn't change the basic fact that the policy prevented a really large number of births."[5] However, some demographers have argued that the policy itself is only partially responsible for the reduction in the total fertility rate.[39]

Sex-based birth rate disparity[edit]

Sex ratio at birth in mainland China, males per 100 females, 1980–2010.
For more details on this topic, see Missing women of Asia.

The sex ratio at birth (between male and female births) in mainland China reached 117:100 and remained steady between 2000 and 2013, substantially higher than the natural baseline, which ranges between 103:100 and 107:100. It had risen from 108:100 in 1981—at the boundary of the natural baseline—to 111:100 in 1990.[40][unreliable source?] According to a report by the National Population and Family Planning Commission, there will be 30 million more men than women in 2020, potentially leading to social instability, and courtship-motivated emigration.[41]

"The Guanyin Who Sends Children" in a temple in the small town of Danshan, Sichuan.

The disparity in the sex ratio at birth increases dramatically after the first birth, for which the ratios remained steadily within the natural baseline over the 20 year interval between 1980 and 1999. Thus, a large majority of couples appear to accept the outcome of the first pregnancy, whether it is a boy or a girl. If the first child is a girl, and they are able to have a second child, then a couple may take extraordinary steps to assure that the second child is a boy. If a couple already has two or more boys, the sex ratio of higher parity births swings decidedly in a feminine direction.[42]

Adoption[edit]

Rural Sichuan roadside sign: "It is forbidden to discriminate against, mistreat or abandon baby girls."

The one child policy has made it more expensive for parents with children to adopt, which may have had an effect upon the numbers of children living in state-sponsored orphanages. However, in the 1980s and early 1990s, poor care and high mortality rates in some state institutions generated intense international pressure for reform.[43][44]

In the 1980s, adoptions accounted for half of the so-called "missing girls".[45] Through the 1980s, as the one-child policy came into force, parents who desired a son but had a daughter often failed to report or delayed reporting female births to the authorities. Some parents may have offered up their daughters for formal or informal adoption. A majority of children who went through formal adoption in China in the later 1980s were girls, and the proportion who were girls increased over time.[45]

Twins sought[edit]

Since there are no penalties for multiple births, it is believed that an increasing number of couples are turning to fertility medicines to induce the conception of twins. According to a 2006 China Daily report, the number of twins born per year in China had doubled.[timeframe?][46]

Improvement in the provision of health care[edit]

It is reported that the focus of China on population control helps provide a better health service for women and a reduction in the risks of death and injury associated with pregnancy. At family planning offices, women receive free contraception and pre-natal classes that contributed to the policy's success in two respects. First, the average Chinese household expends fewer resources, both in terms of time and money, on children, which gives many Chinese more money with which to invest. Second, since young Chinese can no longer rely on children to care for them in their old age, there is an impetus to save money for the future.[47]

A white sign with two lines of red Chinese characters and a smaller one beneath them on a background of white tile
Government sign in Tangshan Township: "For a prosperous, powerful nation and a happy family, please practice family planning."

Chinese authorities thus consider the policy a great success in helping to implement China's current economic growth. The reduction in the fertility rate and thus population growth has reduced the severity of problems that come with overpopulation, like epidemics, slums, overwhelmed social services (such as health, education, law enforcement), and strain on the ecosystem from abuse of fertile land and production of high volumes of waste.[citation needed]

"Four-two-one" problem[edit]

Main article: 4-2-1 phenomenon

As the first generation of law-enforced only-children came of age for becoming parents themselves, one adult child was left with having to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents.[48][49] Called the "4-2-1 Problem", this leaves the older generations with increased chances of dependency on retirement funds or charity in order to receive support. If personal savings, pensions, or state welfare fail, most senior citizens would be left entirely dependent upon their very small family or neighbours for assistance. If, for any reason, the single child is unable to care for their older adult relatives, the oldest generations would face a lack of resources and necessities. In response to such an issue, all provinces have decided that couples are allowed to have two children if both parents were only children themselves: By 2007, all provinces in the nation except Henan had adopted this new policy;[50][51] Henan followed in 2011.[52]

Potential social problems[edit]

Some parents may over-indulge their only child. The media referred to the indulged children in one-child families as "little emperors". Since the 1990s, some people have worried that this will result in a higher tendency toward poor social communication and cooperation skills among the new generation, as they have no siblings at home. No social studies have investigated the ratio of these over-indulged children and to what extent they are indulged. With the first generation of children born under the policy (which initially became a requirement for most couples with first children born starting in 1979 and extending into the 1980s) reaching adulthood, such worries were reduced.[53] However, the "little emperor syndrome" and additional expressions, describing the generation of Chinese singletons are very abundant in the Chinese media, Chinese academy and popular discussions. Being over-indulged, lacking self-discipline and having no adaptive capabilities are adjectives which are highly associated with Chinese singletons.[54]

Some 30 delegates called on the government in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March 2007 to abolish the one-child rule, attributing their beliefs to "social problems and personality disorders in young people". One statement read, "It is not healthy for children to play only with their parents and be spoiled by them: it is not right to limit the number to two children per family, either."[55] The proposal was prepared by Ye Tingfang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who suggested that the government at least restore the previous rule that allowed couples to have up to two children. According to a scholar, "The one-child limit is too extreme. It violates nature's law. And in the long run, this will lead to mother nature's revenge."[55][56]

Birth tourism[edit]

Reports surfaced of Chinese women giving birth to their second child overseas, a practice known as birth tourism. Many went to Hong Kong, which is exempt from the one-child policy. Likewise, a Hong Kong passport differs from China mainland passport by providing additional advantages. Recently though, the Hong Kong government has drastically reduced the quota of births set for non-local women in public hospitals. As a result fees for delivering babies there have surged. As further admission cuts or a total ban on non-local births in Hong Kong are being considered, mainland agencies that arrange for expectant mothers to give birth overseas are predicting a surge in those going to North America.[57] As the United States practises birthright citizenship, children born in the US will be US citizens. The closest option (from China) is Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US dependency in the western Pacific Ocean that allows Chinese visitors without visa restrictions. The island is currently experiencing an upswing in Chinese births. This option is used by relatively affluent Chinese who often have secondary motives as well, wishing their children to be able to leave mainland China when they grow older or bring their parents to the US. Canada is less achievable as Ottawa denies many visa requests.[58][59]

Criticism[edit]

Overstatement of the effect of the policy on birth reduction[edit]

The Chinese government, quoting Zhai Zhenwu, director of Renmin University's School of Sociology and Population in Beijing, estimates that 400 million births were prevented by the one-child policy as of 2011. Zhai clarified that the 400 million estimate referred not just to the one-child policy, but includes births prevented by predecessor policies implemented one decade before, stating that "there are many different numbers out there but it doesn't change the basic fact that the policy prevented a really large number of births."[5] This claim is disputed by Wang Feng, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, and Cai Yong from the Carolina Population Center at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, who put the number of prevented births from 1979 to 2009 at 200 million.[5] Wang claims that "Thailand and China have had almost identical fertility trajectories since the mid 1980s," and "Thailand does not have a one-child policy."[5]

According to a report by the US Embassy, scholarship published by Chinese scholars and their presentations at the October 1997 Beijing conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population seemed to suggest that market-based incentives or increasing voluntariness is not morally better but that it is in the end more effective.[60] In 1988, Zeng Yi and Professor T. Paul Schultz of Yale University discussed the effect of the transformation to the market on Chinese fertility, arguing that the introduction of the contract responsibility system in agriculture during the early 1980s weakened family planning controls during that period.[61] Zeng contended that the "big cooking pot" system of the People's Communes had insulated people from the costs of having many children. By the late 1980s, economic costs and incentives created by the contract system were already reducing the number of children farmers wanted.

As Hasketh, Lu, and Xing observe:

[T]he policy itself is probably only partially responsible for the reduction in the total fertility rate. The most dramatic decrease in the rate actually occurred before the policy was imposed. Between 1970 and 1979, the largely voluntary "late, long, few" policy, which called for later childbearing, greater spacing between children, and fewer children, had already resulted in a halving of the total fertility rate, from 5.9 to 2.9. After the one-child policy was introduced, there was a more gradual fall in the rate until 1995, and it has more or less stabilized at approximately 1.7 since then.[39]

These researchers note further that China could have expected a continued reduction in its fertility rate just from continued economic development, had it kept to the previous policy.

A long-term experiment in a county in Shanxi Province where the family planning law was suspended, that suggested that families would not have many more children even if the law were abolished.[20] A 2003 review of the policy-making process behind the adoption of the one-child policy shows that less intrusive options, including those that emphasized delay and spacing of births, were known but not fully considered by China's political leaders.[62]

Unequal enforcement[edit]

Government officials and especially wealthy individuals have often been able to violate the policy in spite of fines.[63] For example, between 2000 and 2005, as many as 1,968 officials in central China's Hunan province were found to be violating the policy, according to the provincial family planning commission; also exposed by the commission were 21 national and local lawmakers, 24 political advisors, 112 entrepreneurs and 6 senior intellectuals.[63] Some of the offending officials did not face penalties,[63] although the government did respond by raising fines and calling on local officials to "expose the celebrities and high-income people who violate the family planning policy and have more than one child."[63] Also, people who lived in the rural areas of China were allowed to have two children without punishment. But, the family must wait a couple of years before having another child.[64]

Accusations of human rights violations[edit]

The one-child policy has been challenged in principle for violating a human right to determine the size of one's own family. According to a 1968 proclamation of the International Conference on Human Rights, "Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children."[65][66]

According to an unsourced article in the right-wing UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph, a quota of 20,000 abortions and sterilizations was set for Huaiji County in Guangdong Province in one year due to reported disregard of the one-child policy. The article claimed that local officials were being pressured into purchasing portable ultrasound devices to identify abortion candidates in remote villages. The article also claimed that women as far along as 8.5 months pregnant were forced to abort, usually by an injection of saline solution.[67] A 1993 book by One-Child policy critic Steven W. Mosher made the claim that women in their ninth month of pregnancy, or already in labour, were having their children killed whilst in the birth canal or immediately after birth.[68] However, this book was based upon research undertaken between 1979-1980, thirteen years prior to its publication, and Mosher was expelled from Stanford for ethics violations associated with his research methods during this work.[69]

According to a 2005 news report by Australian Broadcasting Corporation correspondent, John Taylor, China outlawed the use of physical force to make a woman submit to an abortion or sterilization in 2002, but, according to him, it is not entirely enforced.[70] In 2012, Feng Jianmei, a villager from central China's Shaanxi province, was reportedly forced into an abortion by local officials after her family refused to pay the fine for having a second child. Chinese authorities have since apologized and two officials were fired, while five others were sanctioned.[71]

In the past China promoted eugenics as part of its population planning policies, but the government has backed away from such policies, as evidenced by China's ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which compels the nation to significantly reform its genetic testing laws.[72] Recent[when?] research has also emphasized the necessity of understanding a myriad of complex social relations that affect the meaning of informed consent in China.[73] Furthermore, in 2003, China revised its marriage registration regulations and couples no longer have to submit to a pre-marital physical or genetic examination before being granted a marriage license.[74]

The United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) support for family planning in China, which has been associated with the One-Child policy in the United States, led the United States Congress to pull out of the UNFPA during the Reagan administration,[75] and again under George W. Bush's presidency, citing human rights abuses[76] and stating that the right to "found a family" was protected under the Preamble in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[77] President Obama resumed U.S. government financial support for the UNFPA shortly after taking office in 2009, intending to "work collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries".[78][79]

Alleged effect on infanticide rates[edit]

Sex-selected abortion, abandonment, and infanticide are illegal in China. Nevertheless, the US State Department,[80] the Parliament of the United Kingdom,[81] and the human rights organization Amnesty International[82] have all declared that China's family planning programs contribute to infanticide.[83][84][85] "The 'one-child' policy has also led to what Amartya Sen first called 'Missing Women', or the 100 million girls 'missing' from the populations of China (and other developing countries) as a result of female infanticide, abandonment, and neglect".[86]

Anthropologist G. William Skinner at the University of California, Davis and Chinese researcher Yuan Jianhua have claimed that infanticide was fairly common in China before the 1990s.[87]

Relaxation of policy[edit]

In November 2013, following the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, China announced the decision to relax the one-child policy. Under the new policy, families can have two children if one parent is an only child.[88] The coastal province of Zhejiang, one of China's most affluent, became the first area to implement this "relaxed policy" in January 2014.[89]

Nevertheless, Deputy Director Wang Peian of the National Health and Family Planning Commission said that "China's population will not grow substantially in the short term".[90] A survey by the commission found that only about half of eligible couples wish to have two children, mostly because of the cost of living impact of a second child.[91]

In Popular Culture[edit]

  • Ball, David (2002). China Run. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0743227433.  A novel about an American woman who travels to China to adopt an orphan of the one-child policy, only to find herself a fugitive when the Chinese government informs her that she has been given "the wrong baby."
  • The difficulties of implementing the one-child policy are dramatized in Mo Yan's novel Frog (2009; English translation 2015).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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