China abandons one-child policy after 35 years

  • By Suki Wong

 

China is to abandon it’s one-child policy after 35 years

Strict family planning rules are to be relaxed, but not entirely removed, instead allowing couples to have two children, although no time frame has been set for the replacement policy’s implementation

The announcement was made at the close of a Communist party meeting focused on financial reforms and maintaining economic growth.

China will “fully implement a policy of allowing each couple to have two children as an active response to an ageing population”, a statement published by the Xinhua News Agency on Thursday said. There were no immediate details on the new policy or a time frame for its implementation.

For months there has been speculation that Beijing was preparing to abandon the divisive family planning rule, which was introduced by Communist party leaders in 1980 because of fears of a population boom.

The government credits it with preventing 400m births, but the human cost has been immense, with forced sterilisations and abortions, infanticide, and a dramatic gender imbalance that means millions of men will never find female partners.
In 2012, a 23-year-old woman from Shaanxi province in north-west China was abducted by family planning officials and forced to have an abortion seven months into the pregnancy for illegally breaching the one child policy.

Opponents say the policy has also created a demographic time bomb with China’s 1.4 billion-strong population ageing rapidly, thus the country’s labour pool shrinking. The UN estimates that by 2050 China will have about 440 million people over 60. The working-age population, those between 15 and 59, fell by 3.71 million last year, a trend that is expected to continue.

News that the one-child policy is to be relaxed into a two child policy comes three months after one Chinese newspaper predicted the policy would be phased out by the end of this year. At the time those reports were denied by the Chinese government.

In recent years, there has been a gradual relaxation of China’s family planning laws, which in a move held as one of the world’s most pro-diversity rulings, already permitted minority ethnic families and rural couples whose firstborn was a girl to have more than one child.

Since 2013, couples in many parts of the country have been allowed to have two children if one parent was an only child.

Steve Tsang, professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham, said ending the policy was unlikely to convince reluctant urban couples to have more children, and would do little to immediately solve the gender imbalance which has resulted from decades of selective abortions by parents who preferred sons to daughters.

“The gender imbalance is going to be a very major problem, we are talking about between 20 million and 30 million young men who are not going to be able to find a wife. That creates social problems and that creates a huge number of frustrated people,” Tsang said.

Dai Qing, a Chinese writer who has publicly called for the one-child policy to be scrapped, said Thursday’s announcement was a positive step. “It shows that the authorities have understood the changes in the total population and the demographic structure and started to address them.”  She added: “Even if people are allowed to have two children, what if they want to have three children or more? ”

Whilst the majority of Chinese families will, most likely, not change their personal views of family planning sticking to one child, it is the next generation that is likely to benefit the most from this reform. The overwhelming emotional response on the ground here in Beijing is  that of freedom and joy. Activists buzzing with energy and a sense of achievement, with couples embracing in relief. However along with a large number of citizens who are indifferent to the reforms there is a significant number saying that the reforms don’t go far enough, there are many, such as Dai Qing,  who want to see the restrictions lifted completely. Whilst others worry that the reforms have come too late, with the damaged already done, it’s rotten fruit just waiting to be picked in the form of an elderly, out of working age, unmarried male centric population. The internal social management within China over the next generation will need to be a carefully and delicately balanced art.

S.Wong@theinternational.org.uk