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  • Anaïs Ronchin

The end of China’s one-child policy: A new future for China?

Stefan Lins, 2011

Photograph: Flickr / Stefan Lins

On 29 October 2015, China ended its one-child policy 35 years after its implementation according to a statement from the Community Party’s Central Committee. After decades of forced abortions, sterilisations, fines and gendercide, Chinese couples are now allowed to have two children. Can it be considered as a step towards greater human rights in China?

This controversial policy was enacted in September 1980 by the Chinese government as a temporary measure with the aim of reducing demand for water and other resources in the wake of China’s rising population. By reducing the number of children born to families, the policy would raise living standards and lift millions out from poverty. Statistics show that 400 million births have been prevented since its establishment. In practice, the family-planning programme applied to couples of the country’s Han majority and rural couples were granted the right to have another child if the first one was a girl. The policy is said to be the reason for China’s economic boom in the 1980s. Indeed, China soon became the world’s second largest economy after the United States of America with an annual economic growth of 7%.

35 years later, the Chinese government seems to have dramatically changed its tune. As TIME magazine puts it, China’s one-child policy ironically threatens to undermine the very economic success it helped spawn. The consequences of this ‘social experiment’ are alarming today:

· Birth rates are exceptionally low, e.g. Shanghai’s fertility rate is 0.7. The average to maintain a population is 2.1. The number of young people entering the workforce is drastically declining.

· The population is greying, resulting in a shortfall in the nation’s pension fund.

· Chinese men struggle to find wives since males are more valorised at birth than females. Because of this gender imbalance, the number of women aged 24-29 is going to fall from 74 to 41 million in the next decade.

A situation of panic has been floating among demographists and economists, however it is mostly important to know about the citizens’ reactions. Some couples have been sharing their stories to shed light on the one-child policy’s terror. It was mainly synonym for forced abortions, women kidnapping, trafficking and gendercide, however no one ever talks about it.

Furthermore, one aspect of the one-child policy has been revealed: some couples broke the law and gave birth to a second child, called ‘heizaizi’ (ghost child). Thirteen million of them exist today – equivalent to Portugal’s population – and are not recognised by the government. They have no identification papers (‘hukou’) and thus no access to schools or health centres, and they cannot apply for jobs or bank accounts. They simply do not exist.

The end of China’s one-child policy is definitely a major win for the Chinese population, however it is not the end of the fight. The law clearly states that couples are now allowed to have two children, but what if they want three? Four? Five? The government implicitly still controls births. Do not consider the end of the one-child policy as a major step in human rights. The Chinese government did not end the policy because they care about its population’s well-being: it ended it for economic reasons. All in all, it is only trying to fix what it broke 35 years ago. The Chinese economy needs workforce and women, thus the urgent need to be more laxist in policies. Experts predict a rise of 2.5 million births each year, which then would imply a rise of $35 million in investments. It definitely sounds like a win-win situation at first: couples are free to have two children and the government benefits from it. However after deeper analysis it is obvious that there’s only one winner…

All in all, will the end of the policy really have an impact? Only the future will tell. The first short-term result we might have will be in nine months from now.

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