Friday, August 29, 2008

INT'L: HEALTH: POLITICS: The Implications Of China's One-Child Policy

(previously published here as part of the special On Human Life edition of

The People's Republic of China's one-child policy has impacted two generations, simultaneously strengthening the economy and challenging long-held social and cultural norms.

It was introduced as a short-term measure in 1979 to improve living standards and economic performance by controlling population growth. In this, it has been successful.

Between 1970 and 1979, when families were simply encouraged to think small, the fertility rate dropped from 5.93 to 2.66 children per woman.

After the policy took effect, the rate was reported as 1.94, even lower for women under 35. In 2003 the UN Population Fund explained these results through the near universal - 83 percent - use of contraception.

Compliance has been encouraged by the establishment of state-run Family Planning Centers throughout China. Eighty percent of villages have a family planning clinic and 99.3 percent have at least one professional family planning worker. In addition, economic incentives are given for compliance, and punishments, for having additional children.

The most notorious mechanism for the reduction in births is coerced abortion, but long-term contraceptive methods such as IUDs (intrauterine devices) and sterilization are most common. Another constraint is legally mandated minimum ages for marriage, 23 for women and 25 for men.

A 1993 article by Dr. R.E.J. Ryder in the British Medical Journal describes Natural Family Planning as a possible alternative to such measures. "Indeed a study of 19,843 poor women in [Calcutta] India had a pregnancy rate approaching zero. Natural family planning is cheap, efficient, without side effects and may be particularly acceptable to and efficacious among people in areas of poverty." The women in this study were mostly illiterate, but they had been trained in Natural Family Planning by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.

In the PRC, the one-child policy is strictly enforced in cities and for government employees, but there are exceptions. A second child is sometimes allowed in rural or less populated areas, if the first child has a disability, or if both parents work in high-risk jobs such as mining.

Still, the ability of parents to choose the sex of their child through selective abortion has resulted in a gender gap. The male to female ratio has increased, from 1.06 in 1979 to 1.17 in 2001, a universal phenomenon exacerbated by underreported female births and unreported adoptions of baby girls.

China's economic empowerment is indisputable, and those girls who survive the cultural preference for sons may net particular advantages in parental attention, education and marriage. However, the overall social costs have been tremendous.

While Americans are familiar with the practice of foreign adoptions, a heartbreaking trade in children has emerged within China itself.

Every year over 70,000 Chinese children are kidnapped, or sold by parents who cannot afford to care for them or cannot afford to pay the fines incurred by their "illegal" births.

Even if the one-child policy is ended, there may still only be moderate growth since most women asked by the Family Planning Commission say they want small families.

China's current population is 1.3 billion. Whatever hopes anyone may have for the policy to end immediately, the Chinese government has stated that the One-Child Policy will continue in effect for at least a decade to accommodate a "surge in births" expected among the 200 million people who will reach child-bearing age.

Heather Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

1 comment:

Kay Bratt said...

Very good post. Unemotional, yet informative. Impressive.