10 China's One-Child Policy Facts - WMNews Ep. 51
10 China's One-Child Policy Facts - WMNews Ep. 51

10 China's One-Child Policy Facts - WMNews Ep. 51

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Sean Harris.

It was one of China's most controversial laws, but as of October 2015 authorities are changing their approach to family planning by allowing families to have two children instead of just one. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we're counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about China's one-child policy.

10 China's One-Child Policy Facts - WMNews Ep. 51

#10: What Is the One-Child Policy?
The Situation

The one-child policy was first introduced in China between 1978 and 1980, by then-leader Deng Xiaoping. Announced as the Chinese populace rose toward one billion people, it was a scheme designed to halt population growth, with unofficial figures claiming that around 400 million births have been prevented since the law was first passed. Many demographers have disputed this cited number, estimating it to be closer to 100 million. Over time, China has allowed exceptions to the rule, but in 2015 a little over 35% of the country was still definitively limited to one child. A 2008 survey reported that 76% of the Chinese population supported the rule, but it has consistently attracted social and political criticism from elsewhere.

#9: Why Was the Policy Instituted?
The Problem

In the late-’70s, the Chinese government became concerned that the country’s rising population would damage their plans for large-scale economic growth. The problems can be dated back to the rule of Mao Zedong, during which China’s population grew from around 540 million in 1949 to around 940 million in 1976. It was introduced partly to deal with the results of Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, which had created widespread food shortages and famine. Officials calculated the optimum population of China to be 700 million, and planned to reach that level within 100 years, by 2080. The one-child policy was passed with that goal in mind.

#8: How Was the Policy Enforced?
The Violations

A controversial piece of legislation in the first place, the one-child policy was forcefully enacted as well, prompting even greater concern and criticism from human rights groups. The National Population and Family Planning Commission managed the policy until an authoritative shift in 2013, which saw the creation of singular agency, the National Health and Family Planning Commission. In some cases, couples that violated the policy faced financial punishment, including large fines and loss of employment. Otherwise, in extreme circumstances, there have been reports of violators being forced by authorities to have an abortion, and forced sterilizations.

#7: What Were the Effects of the Policy?
The Disparity

The one-child policy gave birth to a unique generation, who have constantly been the focus for social study. One of the most alarming effects is the gender disparity that the legislation created between male and female children, with the country’s sex ratio reaching 117:100. It’s estimated that by 2020 there will be 30 million more men than women in China. That imbalance is linked, in part, to disturbing reports of the lengths that limited parents may go to in order to have a son rather than a daughter. The one-child policy saw an early hike in the abandonment of baby girls, and even of female infanticide – though the state of China maintains there’s no link between the two.

#6: What Were the Effects of the Policy: Part II?
The Society

Other problems include China’s experiencing the ‘4-2-1 Problem’. As the policy’s ‘single’ children reached adulthood toward the end of the twentieth century, they found themselves potentially financially responsible for two parents and four grandparents; the shape of China’s population had become too top-heavy. Finally, there’s evidence that China’s ‘only’ children may have been over-indulged when growing up by parents that desired a larger family but were not allowed one. Dubbed as the ‘Little Emperor Syndrome’ by popular media, this has reportedly resulted in a poorly disciplined generation, with fewer social and adaptive capabilities.

#5: How Did Parents Get Around the Policy?
The Solutions

Parents regularly went to extreme measures to try and lessen their childbearing limits. Some sought to have their second child abroad, in what is known as birth tourism, with Hong Kong and America proving popular destinations. Others put all of their efforts into medically improving their chances of having twins, with a 2006 China Daily report finding that the number of twins born every year had doubled compared to the average. The one-child policy also provoked a sharp rise in the number of unregistered children. Known as ‘black children’ in China, they are unknown to authorities, and do not legally exist – meaning that they are unable to access most public services, including education and health care.

#4: Was the Policy Previously Relaxed?
The Past

The policy had already undergone gradual relaxation before the 2015 decision to convert to a ‘two-child policy’. In general, families living in rural areas had found it easier to have a second child without incurring as much of a penalty, with the policy aimed more excessively at urban centers. In some provinces, there had also been relaxation measures put in place allowing a couple to have two children if they were both ‘only children’ themselves. Some areas also allowed exception to the rule for families whose first child suffered a physical or mental disability, and following the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake; regulations were relaxed for parents who had lost children to the disaster. Furthermore, Chinese minorities such as Uighurs and Tibetans have always been exempt from the one-child policy.

#3: Why Was the Policy Finally Changed?
The Crisis

Having had the policy in place for over a generation, China is now experiencing an aging, top-heavy population, in which there are too many old dependents for the number of young independents to support. Economically, the country could find itself strained for two or three decades as a result, with some estimates claiming that China could become home to the largest elderly population on Earth within 15 years. This is especially felt in the labor market, which has seen a shortage as the working population shrank for a third straight year in 2014 by 3.7 million. Additionally, it is expected that in 2020, China will have 30 million bachelors, creating a dire gender ratio situation that is the direct result of the one-child policy. It’s hoped that a two-child policy will stabilize the situation, preventing similar circumstances from ever occurring again.

#2: Will Parents Take Advantage of the Policy Change?
The Limitations

On November 2nd, 2015, families were reminded that any new legislation only comes into effect after the National People’s Congress scheduled for March 2016. However, the impact of the two-child policy is not expected to be instant. Evidence already shows that couples are hesitant to have a second child, even when they are eligible to do so. Studies conducted in early 2015 show that of 11 million couples legally allowed a larger family; only one million had made an application. Experts suspect that after over 30 years of social conditioning, families are unwilling to ‘take the risk’ with a second child, believing the financial, time and energy commitments to be too great a burden.

#1: Will This Fix the Problem?
The Future

Though the two-child policy is seen as a step in the right direction, critics still believe that it isn’t enough. Chinese authorities still control the birth rate, families are still limited, and women are still being told when they can and can’t reproduce. Problems in China are expected to continue, with the issues surrounding having a second child only being switched to a couple’s right to have a third. Wang Feng, a leading demographic expert on China, described the one-child policy as ‘one of the most glaring policy mistakes that China has made’; the two-child law may not ‘glare’ quite as alarmingly, but it won’t escape criticism either.

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