BEIJING — The Chinese government has decided to abandon its decades-old one-child policy, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported last week.
A statement from the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, which has been drawing up its next “Five-Year Plan,” announced a universal two-child policy to “improve the balanced development of population” and to address the dire economic consequences of a rapidly aging population.
Instituted in 1979, the one-child policy was upheld as a “model” of population control by many governments and aid agencies worried about overpopulation. Since then, it is estimated that 400 million Chinese births have been prevented by the policy. A family-planning apparatus and an army of birth-control police monitor women’s menstrual cycles to ensure they are not hiding pregnancies, enforces fines for illegal children and has forced millions of abortions and sterilizations.
Critics of the regime say the latest announcement of a two-child policy will not end the government’s brutal violation of women’s right to bear children and comes too late to redress the myriad disastrous fallouts of the one-child policy.
“China’s population-control program is the most brutal, hated and disastrous anti-woman, anti-child policy ever,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.
“The new policy also needs to be thoroughly vetted for dishonesty,” said Smith. “The Chinese government lies about its human-rights record.”
Even if the policy change is legitimate, it will not mean reproductive freedom, added Smith, who has led several fact-finding missions into the country and been critical of U.S. funding of birth control in China.
“Children will continue to be killed if ‘unauthorized’ by the government and huge fines imposed — the so-called social compensation fee — on families who evade detection and have so-called illegal children.”
Since 1980, the Chinese Communist Party collected more than two trillion yuan ($315 billion) in fines for “extra” children.
In the same time frame, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has received more than $227 million from the U.S. government and has worked alongside the Chinese government while it carried out egregious violations of women’s right to bear children.
Last week, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin issued a press release noting that he hopes the policy change “will lead to the fulfillment of the basic right of all couples and individuals in China to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children, a principle agreed on by all countries in the ‘Program of Action’ adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994.” He added that UNFPA is “committed to working with the government of China to advance and strengthen the sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights of all Chinese people, especially those of women and young people.”
In September, the UNFPA committed to spending another $22.5 million in China between 2016 and 2020, including $7 million for “sexual and reproductive health,” $7.5 million for “population dynamics” and $4 million for “adolescents and youth.”
“Switching from a one-child policy to a two-child policy does not end the coercion at the core of the policy,” said Reggie Littlejohn, a human-rights lawyer with the American group Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, which campaigns to support women who want to keep their daughters under the communist regime and has launched a petition to end forced abortion. “Under a two-child policy, we will still have forced abortion, forced sterilizations and forced contraception.”
Though a number of high-profile, late forced-abortion cases in recent years have highlighted the horrors of the policy on the international stage, many observers believe the Chinese government is unrepentant.
“The Chinese Communist Party has not developed a conscience or a change of heart,” added Littlejohn. Rather, she said, it has simply caved under three increasing economic and cultural realities brought about by its birth-control policy: 1) a rapidly aging population with too few young people to support it, 2) a shrinking workforce unable to support economic growth, and 3) a huge gender imbalance brought about by a traditional preference of sons over daughters when one child is the limit.
One-third of the country is older than 50 years old, and each Chinese worker is supporting two parents and four grandparents. Several news sources have reported that increasing numbers of elderly are committing suicide to avoid being a “burden” on their families.
As well, The (U.K.) Telegraph reported that, in 2012, the workforce began shrinking and is losing 3 million workers each year, and the International Monetary Fund has said the reserve army of labor is going into “precipitous decline,” threatening a labor shortage of 140 million by the early 2030s.
A skewed birth ratio, another fallout of the one-child policy, is also plaguing the culture: In China, 118 boys are born for every 100 girls; and in some areas, there are 160 firstborn sons for every 100 firstborn daughters — a consequence of gender-selective abortion and female infanticide.
Earlier this month, the BBC reported that a Zhejiang University economics professor suggested that poor Chinese men should consider sharing wives in the country, which could have 30 to 40 million bachelors by 2020.
Already, the shortage of women in China has fueled bride trafficking, and professor Xie Zuoshi said men with high incomes will have an advantage in finding women. “And what about the low-income men?” he wrote. “One way is for several men to band together to find a wife. This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky idea of mine. In some remote and poor areas, there are cases where brothers jointly marry one wife, and they can live happily and harmoniously.”
“If we wave the big stick of morality, keep to the one-husband-one-wife social contract, and let 30 million bachelors have no women and no hope — they hate society — then we would have a serious social problem,” the professor wrote, defending his polygamy idea against a wave of criticism that followed.
‘No Reproductive Freedom’
Steven Mosher, founder of the Virginia-based Population Research Institute, who has followed China’s abuses for decades, also said the policy change will not mean freedom from government intrusion in the childbearing decisions of Chinese couples.
“The Chinese Communist Party plans the production of babies in the same way that it plans the production of aircraft carriers (two) and long-range bombers (32),” said Mosher. “There is no reproductive freedom in China.”
“Whatever else you want to say about the Chinese autocrats, they have a ruthlessly clear understanding of their self-interest,” added Jonathan Last, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard and author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting. “If they’re trying to raise the country’s fertility rate, it means that they really are suffering ill-effects from sub-replacement fertility.”
Last’s book examined how falling fertility rates across the globe will impact future societies. China, though significant because of its enormous size, is only one of dozens of countries facing “demographic winter” — a long-term decline in population due to chronically low fertility rates.
Whether the easing of the one-child policy will have any effect on China’s total fertility rate, or enough effect in time to curb the pending demographic and economic implosion that is forecast for the country, remains to be seen.
“As for effectiveness, we have no idea,” Last told the Register. “This will be an important experiment, and no one really knows how it will work out.” Previous attempts to ease the one-child policy have failed to boost the total fertility rate, he said.
And now there is the challenge of persuading people who have been indoctrinated against children — and equated them with totalitarian brutality and financial hardship — to have more kids. Said Last, “Letting people have more kids is meaningless unless people want to have more kids.”
Celeste McGovern writes from Scotland.