Chinese couples will soon be permitted by the state to have two children. According to the New York Times, the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua has announced that the Communist party is relaxing its decades-old population control policy, which brutally punished couples for having more than one child.
For nearly forty years, the Chinese government has punished unauthorized pregnancies by forcibly sterilizing women, confiscating possessions and livestock, and destroying homes. Couples who had unauthorized children were punished by the loss of their jobs and with hefty fines; and pregnant women who could not pay the fine, which could amount to several years' wages, could be legally abducted, beaten, and forced to abort. Social scientist Steven Mosher says that the state sometimes killed unauthorized full term babies immediately after birth, or while they were still in the birth canal as their mothers labored to give birth. In 2012, Chinese social media circulated a photo of a dazed and battered woman named Feng Jiamei, lying on a hospital bed next to the bloody corpse of her child, who was forcibly aborted at seven months.
The one-child policy was put into effect in 1978 to control population numbers. In recent decades, the law has become more lenient toward certain populations -- for instance, allowing couples that included one only child to have two children, and allowing some minorities to have more than one child. Today's announcement changes the policy for all Chinese citizens.
The change in the law is good news, but is almost certainly too little too late. Under the relaxed policy, women are still denied basic reproductive rights and are subject to immense intrusion and humiliation at the hands of the state; and families will still live in terror of brutal punishment if they have more children than the state will allow.
Nearly forty years years of this draconian policy have wrought irreversible harm on Chinese society. Because of an entrenched cultural preference for boys, Chinese girls have been aborted at a much higher rate than boys; and now 122 boys are born for every 100 girls, putting tremendous pressure on women to marry, and leaving many single men at loose ends, with no stable homes. Domestic and sexual violence against women is rampant, and hordes of single young men struggle to find jobs and face a high risk of living violent, desperate, chaotic lives that threaten their own society and that of neighboring countries. Young Chinese are staggering under the burden of caring by themselves for both of their parents and all four of their grandparents. Female infanticide, abandonment, and the sale of babies online is an open secret in many regions.
In short, there is no aspect of Chinese society that has not been grievously wounded by the one-child policy.
Although human rights activists have long campaigned for a reversal of the draconian population law, many Chinese may continue to have one or no children, even once they are allowed to have more, according to the NYT article. The economic burden of survival has become too great, and Chinese society has become accustomed to the idea of single-child families.