IS ONE-CHILD POLICY COMING TO AN END?
July 30, 2015
China is planning to overhaul its one-child policy after 35 years of implementation, according to various news sources. Although not confirmed by the government, a new regulation, under which all couples are legally permitted to have two children, may be soon put into practice to address the country’s urgent demographic problem.
On July 23, an anonymous person from the Chinese government told China Business Review the government is considering a new policy allowing all Chinese couples to have two children. The “two-child” policy would be implemented “as soon as the end of the year if everything goes well.”
Under current regulations, each couple living in urban areas is allowed to give birth to only one child. A second child is allowed if the couple lives in rural areas and their first child is a girl. Ethnic minority families are exempt from the one-child limit.
However, the government’s stance on one-child policy has not officially changed. Yang Wenzhuang, the spokesperson from China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), ruled out the possibility of introducing a “two-child” policy by the end of this year. “No timetable has been set to allow all couples in the country to have a second child,” he said.
Yang also said the Commission’s current priority is to enhance the management of the one-child policy and evaluate a recently implemented relaxation program, which allowed couples to have two children if both parents were only children.
China is on the “fast lane” towards an aging society. According to a report released by the NHFPC, 15.5 percent of the Chinese population were over age 60 in 2014. This figure is expected to grow to over 30 percent by 2050. Meanwhile, population growth rates have slowed significantly across the nation. In major cities and highly urbanized regions such as the Northeast, birth rates are even lower than that of developed countries. Projections show that by 2025, China’s population will reach its peak at 1.4 billion and then begin to steadily decline. Many Chinese experts worry that at that time, the “side effects” of one-child policy, including shrinking work force, rising health care expenditure, soaring pension costs, and collapsing real estate markets, will pose a threat to the country’s economic development and lead to a huge socioeconomic crisis unless the government takes immediate actions to address the problem.
In order to boost birth rates, the NHFPC authorized a relaxation program which allowed couples to have a second baby if either parent is an only child in 2013. The decision was made based on the result of a poll conducted by the Commission, which showed that more than 11 million couples were eligible to have a second child and about 60 percent of them were willing to have a second child. By the end of 2014, 29 of 31 provincial regions in China mainland had implemented the relaxation program.
The government’s effort did not spur a baby boom as expected. Research conducted by the NHFPC in 2014 showed that only six percent of the qualified couples, or 700 thousand couples, submitted the application in 2014, while the government’s estimation was 18 percent. High costs of raising a child is one of the main reasons many young couples have become reluctant to have a second child.
Besides its negative effect on population growth, the one-child policy has also earned criticisms from human rights groups, who accuse the Chinese government of using methods such as government-sponsored involuntary sterilizations, abortions, and infanticide in the implementation of the policy. In 2012, a 23-year-old woman from Shaanxi province was arrested by government officials and forced to have an abortion after her family failed to pay fines. Soon after this incident, human rights groups and Western governments criticized the Chinese government for violating reproductive freedom. This incident also raised a huge debate over the brutality of the one-child policy among the Chinese public. “The core issue is not about one child or two children. It’s about reproductive freedom. It’s about basic human rights,” said Liang Zhongtang, a demographer from the Shanghai Academy of Social Science.
For more information on this topic, please visit the following links:
The Guardian – “China may bring in ‘two-child policy’ to tackle demographic timebomb”
The Washington Post – “Why China’s one-child policy still leads to forced abortions, and always will”
Shanghai Daily – “China Focus: DINKs in aging China”
China.org – “Family Planning Law and China’s Birth Control Situation”
For Chinese language news on this topic, see the sources below:
第一财经日报 – “全面二孩放开政策正抓紧推进”
人口与未来 – ““单独二孩”政策周年记”
Compiled and edited by Junxiao Liang.