A Chinese family with one child at a park
The one child policy, a part of the family planning policy, was a population planning policy of China. It was introduced in 1979 and began to be formally phased out in 2015. The policy allowed many exceptions and ethnic minorities were exempt. In 2007, 36% of China's population was subject to a strict one-child restriction, with an additional 100% being allowed to have a second child if the first child was a girl. Provincial governments imposed fines for violations, and the local and national governments created commissions to raise awareness and carry out registration and inspection work.
According to the Chinese government, 400 million births were prevented. This claim has been called "false" by scholars, because "three-quarters of the decline in fertility since 1970 occurred before the launching of the one-child policy; and most of the further decline in fertility since 1980 can be attributed to economic development." Thailand and Iran, along with the Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu have had similar declines of fertility without a one-child policy. Although 76% of Chinese people supported the policy in a 2008 survey, it was controversial outside of China.
On October 29, 2015, it was reported that the existing law would be changed to a two-child policy, citing a statement from the Communist Party of China. The new law became effective on January 1, 2016, following its passage in the standing committee of the National People's Congress on December 27, 2015.
|Population in China|
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|Source: Census of China|
During the period of Mao Zedong's leadership in China, the birth rate fell from 37 per thousand to 20 per thousand. Infant mortality declined from 227 per thousand births in 1949 to 53 per thousand in 1981, and life expectancy dramatically increased from around 35 years in 1948 to 66 years in 1976. Until the 1960s, the government encouraged families to have as many children as possible because of Mao's belief that population growth empowered the country, preventing the emergence of family planning programs earlier in China's development. The population grew from around 540 million in 1949 to 940 million in 1976. Beginning in 1970, citizens were encouraged to marry at later ages and have only two children.
Although the fertility rate began to decline, the Chinese government observed the global debate over a possible overpopulation catastrophe suggested by organizations such as Club of Rome and Sierra Club. While visiting Europe in 1979, 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 China's population to the desired level by 2080, with the one-child policy as one of the main instruments of social engineering. In spite of some criticism inside the party, the plan (also referred to as the Family Planning Policy) was officially adopted in 1979. The plan called for families to have one child each in order to curb a then-surging population and limit the demands for water and other resources, as well as to alleviate social, economic and environmental problems in China. The policy was formally implemented as a temporary measure on September 18, 1980.
The one-child policy was originally designed to be a One-Generation Policy. It was enforced at the provincial level and enforcement varied; some provinces had relaxed the restrictions. After Henan loosened the requirement, the majority of provinces and cities permitted two parents, who were themselves the sole children of their respective parents, to have two children. As a result, in 2007, only 36% of China's population fell under the enforcement this policy. In rural areas, however, families are allowed two children without incurring penalties. The one-child limit has mostly been enforced in densely populated urban areas, and implementation varies from location to location. Couples could request permission to have more than one child.
Beginning in 1980, 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, and some provinces had other exemptions worked into their policies as well. In most areas, families were allowed to apply to have a second child if their first-born is a daughter. Furthermore, families with children with disabilities have different policies and families whose first child suffers from physical disability, mental illness, or intellectual disability were allowed to have more children. However, second children were sometimes subject to birth spacing (usually 3 or 4 years). Children born in overseas countries were not counted under the policy if they do not obtain Chinese citizenship. Chinese citizens returning from abroad were allowed to have a second child. Sichuan province allowed exemptions for couples of certain backgrounds. By one estimate there were at least 22 ways in which parents could qualify for exceptions to the law towards the end of the one-child policy's existence. 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.
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. Similar exceptions had previously been made for parents of severely disabled or deceased children. 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 was also enforced if the birth was given in Hong Kong or abroad.
In accordance with China's affirmative action policies towards ethnic minorities, all non-Han ethnic groups are subjected to different laws and were usually allowed to have two children in urban areas, and three or four in rural areas. Han Chinese living in rural towns were also permitted to have two children. Because of couples such as these, as well as who simply pay a fine (or "social maintenance fee") to have more children, the overall fertility rate of mainland China is close to 1.4 children per woman.
The Family Planning Policy was enforced through a financial penalty in the form of the "social child-raising fee", sometimes called a "family planning fine" in the West, which was 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. For instance, in Guangdong, the fee is between 3 and 6 annual incomes for incomes below the per capita income of the district, plus 1 to 2 times the annual income exceeding the average. Both members of the couple need to pay the fine.
In 2013, 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". 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.
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 could have two children if one parent, rather than both parents, was an only child. This mainly applied to urban couples, since there were very few rural only children due to long-standing exceptions to the policy for rural couples. The coastal province of Zhejiang, one of China's most affluent, became the first area to implement this "relaxed policy" in January 2014. The relaxed policy has been implemented in 29 out of the 31 provinces, with the exceptions of Xinjiang and Tibet. Under this policy, approximately 11 million couples in China are allowed to have a second child; however, only "nearly one million" couples applied to have a second child in 2014, less than half the expected number of 2 million per year. By May 2014, 241,000 out of 271,000 applications had been approved. Officials of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission claimed that this outcome was expected, and that “second-child policy” would continue progressing with a good start.
In October 2015, the Chinese news agency Xinhua announced plans of the government to abolish the one-child policy, now allowing all families to have two children, citing from a communiqué issued by the Communist Party "to improve the balanced development of population" — an apparent reference to the country's female-to-male sex ratio — and to deal with an aging population according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The new law is effective from 1 January 2016 after it was passed in the standing committee of the National People's Congress on 27 December 2015.
The rationale for the abolition is summarized by former Wall Street Journal reporter Mei Fong: "The reason China is doing this right now is because they have too many men, too many old people, and too few young people. They have this huge crushing demographic crisis as a result of the one-child policy. And if people don’t start having more children, they’re going to have a vastly diminished workforce to support a huge aging population." China's ratio is about five working adults to one retiree; the huge retiree community must be supported, and that will dampen future growth, according to Fong.
Since the citizens of China are living longer and having fewer children, the growth of the population imbalance is expected to continue, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation which referred to a United Nations projections forecast that China will lose 67 million working-age people by 2030, while simultaneously doubling the number of elderly. That could put immense pressure on the economy and government resources." The longer term outlook is also pessimistic, based on an estimate by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, revealed by Cai Fang, deputy director. "By 2050, one-third of the country will be aged 60 years or older, and there will be fewer workers supporting each retired person."
Although many critics of China's reproductive restrictions approve of the policy's abolition, some say that the move to the two-child policy will not end forced sterilizations, forced abortions, or government control over birth permits. Others also state that the abolition is not a sign of the relaxation of authoritarian control in China. A reporter for CNN said, "It was not a sign that the party will suddenly start respecting personal freedoms more than it has in the past. No, this is a case of the party adjusting policy to conditions. ...The new policy, raising the limit to two children per couple, preserves the state's role." The abolition may not achieve a significant benefit, as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation analysis indicates: "Repealing the one-child policy may not spur a huge baby boom, however, in part because fertility rates are believed to be declining even without the policy's enforcement. Previous easings of the one-child policy have spurred fewer births than expected, and many people among China's younger generations see smaller family sizes as ideal." The CNN reporter adds that China's new prosperity is also a factor in the declining birth rate, saying, "Couples naturally decide to have fewer children as they move from the fields into the cities, become more educated, and when women establish careers outside the home."
The one-child 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.
The policy was enforced at the provincial level through fines that were imposed based on the income of the family and other factors. "Population and Family Planning Commissions" existed at every level of government to raise awareness and carry out registration and inspection work.
The Chinese government says that 400 million births were prevented between years 1970- before the start of one-child policy, though this statistic was not independently verified. In Newsweek, for example, the cause/effect was disputed, with "...some demographers claim[ing] China’s population growth would have flattened out even without it—the draconian rule left emotional, social and economic scars the country and its citizens will be dealing with for years."
Continuation of demographic transition
The fertility rate in China continued its fall from 2.8 births per woman in 1979 (already a sharp reduction from more than five births per woman in the early 1970s) to 1.5 in 2010. This is similar to demographic transition seen in Thailand, Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu which have undergone similar changes in fertility rates without a one child policy.
Disparity in sex ratio at birth
The sex ratio of a newborn infant (between male and female births) in mainland China reached 117:100, and stabilized between 2000 & 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. 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.
The disparity in the gender 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. This demographic evidence indicates that while families highly value having male offspring, a secondary norm of having a girl or having some balance in the sexes of children often comes into play.Zeng 1993 reported a study based on the 1990 census in which they found sex ratios of just 65 or 70 boys per 100 girls for births in families that already had two or more boys. A study by Anderson & Silver 1995 found a similar pattern among both Han and non-Han nationalities in Xinjiang Province: a strong preference for girls in high parity births in families that had already borne two or more boys. This tendency to favour girls in high parity births to couples who had already borne sons was later also noted by Coalenad, who suggested as well that once a couple had achieved its goal for the number of males, it was also much more likely to engage in "stopping behavior", i.e., to stop having more children.
The long-term disparity has led to a significant gender imbalance or skewing of the sex ratio. As reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, China has between 32 million and 36 million more males than would be expected naturally, and this has led to social problems. "Because of a traditional preference for baby boys over girls, the one-child policy is often cited as the cause of China's skewed sex ratio... Even the government acknowledges the problem and has expressed concern about the tens of millions of young men who won't be able to find brides and may turn to kidnapping women, sex trafficking, other forms of crime or social unrest." The situation will not improve in the near future. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, there will be 24 million more men than women of marriageable age by 2020.
The one-child policy of China 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.
In the 1980s, adoptions accounted for half of the so-called "missing girls". 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.
In an interview with National Public Radio on October 30, 2015, Adam Pertman, president and CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, indicated that many young girls were adopted by citizens of other countries, particularly the United States, a trend which has been declining for some years. "The infant girls of yesteryear have not been available, if you will, for five, seven years. China has been […] trying to keep the girls within the country […]. And the consequence is that, today, rather than those young girls who used to be available – primarily girls – today, it's older children, children with special needs, children in sibling groups. It's very, very different."
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 was estimated to have doubled.
Quality of life for women
The one-child policy has played a major role in improving the quality of life for women in China. For thousands of years, girls have held a lower status in Chinese households. However, the one-child policy's limit on the number of children has prompted parents of women to start investing money in their well-being. As a result of being an only child, women have increased opportunity to receive an education, and support to get better jobs.
It is reported that the focus of China on population planning 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 people more money with which to invest. Second, since Chinese adults can no longer rely on children to care for them in their old age, there is an impetus to save money for the future.
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. 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; Henan followed in 2011.
Heihaizi (Chinese: 黑孩子; pinyin: hēiháizi) or "black child" is a term applied in China. The term denotes children born outside the One child policy, or generally children who are not registered in the Chinese national household registration system.
Being excluded from the family register (in effect, a birth certificate), they do not legally exist and as a result cannot access most public services, such as education and health care, and do not receive protection under the law.
Potential social problems
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 amongst 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.
However, the "little emperor syndrome" and additional expressions, describing the generation of Chinese singletons are very abundant in the Chinese media, Chinese academia and popular discussions. Being over-indulged, lacking self-discipline and having no adaptive capabilities are traits that are highly associated with Chinese singletons.
Some 30 delegates called on the government in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March 2007 to abolish the one-child rule, citing "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." 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."
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.
As the United States practises birthright citizenship, most children born in the US will automatically have US citizenship. The closest US location 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 their government denies many visa requests.
Statement of the effect of the policy on birth reduction
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, while some demographers challenge that number, putting the figure at perhaps half that level, according to CNN. 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."
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 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." China's Health Ministry has also disclosed that at least 336 million abortions were performed on account of the policy.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
Corrupted government officials and especially wealthy individuals have often been able to violate the policy in spite of fines. Filmmaker Zhang Yimou had three children and was subsequently fined 7.48 million yuan ($1.2 million). 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.
Some of the offending officials did not face penalties, 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." Also, people who lived in the rural areas of China were allowed to have two children without punishment, although the family is required to wait a couple of years before having another child.
Human rights violations
The one-child policy has been challenged 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."
According to the 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. According to the article local officials were being pressured into purchasing portable ultrasound devices to identify abortion candidates in remote villages. The article also reported that women as far along as 8.5 months pregnant were forced to abort, usually by an injection of saline solution. A 1993 book by social scientist Steven W. Mosher reported 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.
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 ineffectively enforces the measure. In 2012, Feng Jianmei, a villager from central China's Shaanxi province was 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.
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. Recent research has also emphasized the necessity of understanding a myriad of complex social relations that affect the meaning of informed consent in China. 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.
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, and again under George W. Bush's presidency, citing human rights abuses and stating that the right to "found a family" was protected under the Preamble in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 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".
Effect on infanticide rates
Sex-selected abortion, abandonment, and infanticide are illegal in China. Nevertheless, the United States Department of State, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and the human rights organization Amnesty International have all declared that infanticide still exists. A writer for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs wrote, "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".
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation offered the following summary as to the long term effects of sex-selective abortion and abandonment of female infants: "Multiple research studies have also found that sex-selective abortion — where a woman undergoes an ultrasound to determine the sex of her baby, and then aborts it if it's a girl — was widespread for years, particularly for second or subsequent children. Millions of female fetuses have been aborted since the 1970s. China outlawed sex selective abortions in 2005, but the law is tough to enforce because of the difficulty of proving why a couple decided to have an abortion. The abandonment, and killing, of baby girls has also been reported, though recent research studies say it has become rare, in part due to strict criminal prohibitions."
In popular culture
- Ball, David (2002). China Run. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-74322743-3. 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 prevention of a state imposed abortion during labor to conform with the one child policy was a key plot point in Tom Clancy's novel The Bear and the Dragon.
- The difficulties of implementing the one-child policy are dramatized in Mo Yan's novel Frog (2009; English translation by Howard Goldblatt, 2015).
- Avoiding the family-planning enforcers is at the heart of Ma Jian's novel The Dark Road (translated by Flora Drew, 2013).
- Novelist Lu Min writes about her own family's experience with the One Child Policy in her essay A Second Pregnancy, 1980 (translated by Helen Wang, 2015).
- Xue, Xinran (2015). Buy Me the Sky. Rider (imprint). ISBN 978-1-8460-4471-7. Tells the stories of the children brought up under China's One-child policy and the effect that has had on their lives, families and ability to deal with life's challenges.
- Fong, Mei (2016). One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780544275393.
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