In a historic move, China will amend its controversial one-child policy that has been in place for 35 years, amid growing concern about the health of its economy.
The infamously controversial policy was put in place in 1979 in order to stem the growing population, which at the time was a 969 million people. The mandate caused significant social and human rights problems, because it favored male children over female. In China, a boy is an honor while a girl is a burden. Unable to work and provide financial support for the family, her only task is to get married and thus relieve some of her parents’ burden. This led to forced abortions, late-term abortions, child abandonment, and even forced sterilization.
While humanitarians are relieved at the news, they’re also aware that the change to the mandate doesn’t go far enough: the amendment merely states that a couple can now have two children instead of one, and doesn’t give a timeline for it to take effect.
Even though humanitarians place emphasis on the social and human-rights issues the policy has engendered, the amendment to the policy was motivated almost strictly by economic concerns.
35 years after the policy was instituted, China now faces a huge population of the elderly and a much smaller population of younger people willing to work to buttress their growing economy. The burden is on the younger generations to work and provide for the older, and there are simply not enough people.
China’s population is the largest at 1.37 billion, but the working-age population keeps shrinking, and the population of people over 65 is only growing larger. There are not enough resources to provide for the growing population of people who will not work, without being forced to grow the population.
The policy also led to a lopsided demographic. There are about 116 men for every woman, which means that a huge amount of the male population will never get married and thus procreate.
The Wall Street Journal writes that implementation of the two-child policy will be gradual. It may also be ineffective.
Cai Young, an expert in China’s demography and professor at the University of North Carolina, is “quite pessimistic” about its long-term effects, and states that it would have been better to reverse the policy at least a decade ago.
And then there’s the issue of whether parents will even welcome the birth of a second child in a country in which education and supplies, like imported baby formula, are extremely expensive. Some people just don’t want a second child. Some don’t have the “energy” or the money to support a growing family.
Despite the complications inherent in an issue such as this, there’s no doubt that this is a historic moment in Chinese and world history. The ramifications of the one- and two-child policies will unfold in due time.