So many of you probably know that China has a one-child policy, started in 1978. The government implemented this controversial policy because of fear that the population would grow far too large to be sustainable. The laws are not always concrete though, and slowly I think the government has relaxed upon many restrictions. However, this policy has many social consequences.
If you have a second child, you are subject to heavy fines. You may lose your job if you work for the public sector. Therefore, making the wrong decision could cripple your family's finances and future. However, it seems now that instead of viewing the monetary penalty as a punishment, some people (with enough money) see it as the price to pay to have a second child. Additionally, if you work in the private sector, your career might not be affected.
There are many other exemptions. If one of the children is born in another country (or Hong Kong), he or she doesn't count and the parents can have another child. If both parents are single children in their respective families, they can have two children. Farmers in rural areas can have more than one child. Members of minority groups are also not limited to one child.
Therefore, if you are wealthy, you basically can ignore the laws, because you can either afford to pay the fines or afford to go to another country to give birth. However, the majority of the population does not have so much free-spending money. Hence, most people that live in urban areas only have one child.
I have read articles and books about the human rights abuses involved, such as women being forced to be sterilized and have abortions. I'm sure these stories are true though I have not personally heard of or observed any such atrocities. In my opinion, since most citizens seem to be complacent and passive with the government's policies, they accept birth control and abortions as a normal way of life. When I spoke with people about the policy, most of them did not really like it but thought it necessary to control China's population.
There are so many concrete problems that arise from the one-child policy, aside from the issues of reproductive rights and privacy. Of course, these issues aren't absolute, because as I mentioned before, there are loopholes where couples can have more than one child. However, the effects are real and growing, especially upon the families.
- The Parents: It is traditional in Chinese families that when the kids grow up, they support their parents through old age. Children are like insurance. The parents usually are financially and emotionally dependent on their children. This fact explains why in the past, parents liked to have many children - so they could be sure to be well cared for in their old age. However, it becomes an inverted triangle now. Each child has to maintain two elderly parents. A married couple must provide for four elders. Since the aging parents usually live with their children, this creates an issue.
- The Children: Since children are so important in Chinese society, single children are under a lot of pressure from their parents. After all, each one of them is their parents' only hope for the future. Parents are also overly protective and coddling, spoiling their child. Many parents take this point of view: as long as my child succeeds in school, he can have whatever else he wants. This environment can create many emotional issues, such as overly-stressed students or kids with low emotional maturity. Society becomes extremely competitive as each parent strives to make their own child the best.
- Babies: Traditionally, Chinese parents prefer sons. After all, it is your son who will support you in your old age. Sons will carry on the family name. But how can you be sure that your only child will be a son? Hence the large numbers of abandoned baby girls. The lucky ones will eventually make it to an orphanage. No wonder all the stories you hear of adopted babies from China are all of baby girls. I've heard that sex-selective abortions are not legal any more but I'm sure there are ways to get around that. I am lucky that my family is wonderful and even though all my cousins are girls (on my father's side), nobody complains, though my grandfather would love a grandson to carry on the family name.
- Sex-ratio: Because of the preference for boys, the sex-ratio of this generation is skewed. I believe it is around 120 males for 100 females as an average, but in some areas it could be more extreme. It is harder for guys to get married. They also face more competition in the workplace. Many thinkers believe it is unhealthy to a society to have a large population of young and single men, as this demographic is the most likely to be violent and full of unrest.
- The Economy: China will definitely have an aging population in the near future. It will be tough to have these new, small generation of children supporting a large elderly generation. Healthcare costs will definitely be an issue. Also, with a smaller working population, I wonder if China will be able to keep up its miraculous economic growth.
- Family: Isn't it kind of sad to think that after my generation, many families will not know of cousins, uncles, or aunts? Each family will be a single nuclear unit. Right now, though my cousins do not have siblings, at least have each other and they treat each other like sisters. But what about their children? Extended family is such an important part of the Chinese culture and tradition.
We don't know what China's population would look like without the one-child policy. Maybe it would have continued exploding like India's population. Maybe there would have been even more social problems, such as lack of basic resources, crowding in cities, destruction of the environment, and famines. Maybe China would have turned out like Japan, where fewer and fewer couples want children, and the population is actually shrinking. This possibility wouldn't be unlikely in the future, with the rise of China's middle class.
The Chinese government did have good intentions but I think the policy was implemented poorly. If it was incentive-based rather than founded on fear and penalty, the policy would have been much more acceptable in terms of human rights. However, what financial incentive would be enough to stop a couple from having another child to insure their security in the future? Without a doubt, it was a tough policy decision to make. The main choice mirrors many topics we are debating today: Is it okay to violate the rights of individuals in order to benefit society at large?
It's only been 32 years since the policy has been instated - only one generation of children has been without siblings. The population growth has not stopped because of the lasting effects of population momentum. It's too soon to tell what the lasting societal effects will be.
What have you heard of the one-child-policy? What are your thoughts?