4 Pressing Pros and Cons of the One Child Policy

“…one child is good enough.”

Those are the words that Kang Lu, a marketing director born under the one-child policy of China and now a mother herself, told the Washington Post. And she isn’t alone in that thought even though the Chinese government has eased their stance on the one-child policy. Other Chinese families believe that for practical and economic reasons it’s best to have just one child. Then again, government propaganda enacted over decades has also convinced them that they should just have one child.

But China is in kind of a pickle these days because of the family planning policy they imposed. The country is experiencing low fertility rates, have a quickly aging population and a shrinking labor force. These factors, according to experts, will contribute strains in the country’s economy in the years to come, as well as the ability of the government to pay pensions.

In November 2013, China relaxed their one-child policy. Under the new rules, if one of the parents is an only child, couples can have two children. Then again, that rule will only be applicable to urban families as rural couples are exempted from this rule.

And that is partly why the policy is a bit baffling. While the country did implement a one-child policy, it wasn’t meant for everyone.

A Brief History

During the rule of Chairman Mao, the birthrate in China as as high as four children for each family. It was also a time when food shortages were rampant which led to famine.

In the 1980s, the Communist Party put restrictions on the country’s population growth so that food and water supplies would stabilize, as well as enhance individual prosperity. Chinese ethnic minorities such as Uighurs and Tibetans were exempt from this rule. Also, those living in the countryside can have a second baby if the first was a girl.

Women underwent regular inspections to check whether they are pregnant – even those aged in their 40s and 50s were inspected. Those found pregnant would suffer from forced abortions and sterilizations. Then again, some families were able to hide newborn children. Once they were caught though, they were given an option to pay a “social upbringing fee” to cover for healthcare and education.

Was the Policy Effective?

In essence, it did bring down the population by 400 million, according to Chinese officials. However, demographers believe the number to be around 100 million as they’ve noticed falling birth rates across Asia.

Even the recent changes have failed to spark a baby boom. When the announcement was made, 11 million couples were eligible to have a second child. As such, officials were expecting around two million births in 2014.

That figure never came into fruition as only 700,000 couples applied for the new dispensation and only 620,000 were given a permit. In other words, China is facing a huge demographic issue in the next years to come. They have a rapidly aging population where a quarter will be over 60 by 2030.

Given that the one-child policy is still in place, let’s look at why it’s a good idea and why it isn’t.

List of Pros of the One-Child Policy

1. It helped with population control.
As mentioned above, China had a huge population issue back in Chairman Mao’s time. The number of people was far to great for the available resources and something had to be done and this was the proposed idea. By September 1980, an open letter was issued by the Communist Party calling for one child for each couple to “keep the population below 1.2 billion at the end of the 20th century.”

Since it was implemented, China did control their population. In 2007, the University of California, Irvine undertook a study that found the policy “remarkably effective.”

After the policy was introduced, the fertility rate in China dropped to 2.63 births per woman in 1980 to 1.61 in 2009. Quoting Zhai Zhenwu, director of Renmin University’s School of Sociology and Population in Beijing, the Chinese government estimated about 400 million births were prevented by the policy as of 2011.

Then again, the policy is exactly what is putting China at an uncomfortable position demographic-wise in the next few days. They’ve already eased on the policy, but it has failed to do what they expected it to: make more babies.

2. It is seen as practical by some families.
In Kang Lu’s story, which was mentioned early in the article, she and her husband didn’t find it practical to have another child, even if the government has eased up on their stance. After the changes were announced, she talked to her husband on whether they wanted to have another child. Of course, they both decided that it wasn’t a good idea given their current circumstance.

With the couple working, they have trouble finding a nanny to look after their children. Also, the market is unregulated in the country and the tales of neglect are pretty rampart. To help watch over their child, Kang’s parents moved to Beijing but they are now too old to help. Kang has ambitions for her career too – something she would have to give up to care for a second child. The rising housing market is also seen as a problem as Kang and her husband can’t afford a bigger apartment. Plus, there’s health concerns for the new baby too as Beijing is reputed for its smoggy air.

List of Cons of the One-Child Policy

1. The enforcement is unequal.
Members of government and wealthy couples were able to sidestep the rules frequently despite being slapped with fines. Between 2000 and 2005, about 1,968 officials in Hunan province were found to have violated the policy. Even worse, some of the officials who offended didn’t face penalties.

Mostly though, the one-child policy was meant for those from the urban areas. Rural families were free to have two children without any punishment. Then again, they had to wait years as well to add a new member to the family.

2. It is a human rights violation.
The right to determine the size of one’s family is being violated by the one-child policy. The 1968 proclamation of the International Conference on Human Rights clearly states, “Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children.” However, this right can’t be exercised by all couples in China.

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.