China's Birth Control (Family Planning Policy)

China's Birth Control (Family Planning Policy)

Although people have heard of China’s “One Child Policy”, many people have a mistaken idea of what it is all about. This year (2016), after nearly 40 years, the government is finally changing the policy.

When and why did it start?

With a country the size of China, it’s not surprising that the government has found it necessary to try to control the size of the population over the years.

Initially in 1949, shortly after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, people were encouraged to have lots of children because the country needed manpower, and so over the next few years the population doubled. Not surprisingly, soon there was not enough food to go around, and so then the government started directing people to use contraceptives.

The ‘One Child Policy’ was introduced in 1979 in a bold attempt to limit the growth of the population. Most family units were then permitted to have only one child. This was enforced with fines, sterilizations, and abortions.

But there were exceptions. For example, the 55 ethnic minority groups were allowed to have more children. Rural families were allowed a second child if the first one was a girl. If both of the parents were an only child, they could have a second child. Parents of a handicapped child could be allowed a second child. Families that lost a child in the 2008 earthquake were permitted to have another child.

The fines that were imposed on couples who had an extra child were prohibitive, amounting to about a year’s wages for poorer families. However, for wealthy families the fine was no deterrent.

While over time people from around the world have had a lot to say about both the method of controlling the population as well as the measures taken to enforce the policy, everyone would agree that something had to be done about China’s population.

What effect did it have?

There has been a great deal of discussion about the effectiveness of the policy but it is difficult to rate because no one can prove what would have happened without it.

China claims that it was effective, stating that 400 million births were prevented. This is based on the assumption that without the one-child policy the fertility rate would have remained constant, but in fact fertility rates generally do not stay constant.

With only one child in a family, the parents pay more attention to the child and willingly spend money for the child’s education. No doubt these children receive a better level of education than they would have in a family with many children.

Along with the possibility of solving China’s overpopulation problems, the Policy had some less desirable social effects.

  1. The most obvious result, after years under the one child policy, it came to be that the ‘normal’ Chinese family consisted of six doting adults (four grandparents and two parents) and one over-indulged child. These children are often referred to as “little emperors” whose entourage hurry to meet his every whim.
  2. The Government is needing to paying more and more for public pensions due to the aging population . The one child policy was putting pressure on succeeding generations of only children such that a couple could potentially find themselves looking after four parents and eight grandparents. The government introduced pension plans in 2009-11.
  3. Chinese society now has an imbalance in the sexes, with considerably more boys than girls, and many young men are having trouble finding a wife. If they are only able to have one child, Chinese parents would much rather have a boy, and who can blame them knowing that boys grow up with much better prospects financially?

Why has the policy recently been scrapped?

In China the powers that be were not unaware of the social problems arising out of the One Child Policy, but limiting population growth had been crucial to survival.

Although scrapping the policy will allow the population growth to continue, there is now a more urgent situation of an aging population and too few younger people to take care of them.

In 2013 there was a limited relaxation of the policy, so that couples where either one them is from a single child family themselves are allowed to have a second child. This new exemption was available to over 12 million couples, but only about 12 percent of eligible couples applied.

Now, in 2016, the One Child Policy has been scrapped, and parents are permitted to have two children.

What did Chinese people think about this policy?

The policy has been in place for a very long time, and Chinese people have got used to it, and found ways to adapt and make the best of it.

While they may have understood the reasoning behind the policy, many people were angered and deeply hurt by the unacceptable ways in which it was enforced over the years with forced abortions and forced sterilizations. Children who were born illegally were left without social standing, unable to get a job unless the penalty was paid. Parents were especially devastated when ill-fortune befell their one and only offspring.

Now that they are permitted a second child, for some parents who lost the first child, it is simply too late. Others are hurrying to conceive before they are too old. However, some parents are choosing not to have another child, stating that it is just too expensive, especially now that there are such heightened expectations for children’s education.

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By Ruth Wickham
Chief Editor & Writer