Ending China’s one-child policy

NICK EICHER, HOST: Almost 40 years ago, China imposed a policy of one-child per couple. The government loosened that limit in 2015, permitting two children. But the birth rate still fell.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Now it looks like the Chinese government may be scrapping its infamous birth limits altogether. China’s cabinet recently began looking into what the old policy of limiting the number of children has meant. This as the country struggles with a shortage of workers.

WORLD’s East Asia reporter June Cheng is here to talk about it.

June, why is the Chinese government considering ending birth limits now?

JUNE CHENG, REPORTER: So, the one-child policy first came into effect in 1979 as a way to control population growth. So, couples were only allowed to have one child per family and if the mother had a second child, the government would either fine the couple, sometimes forcibly abort the baby, or forcibly sterilize the mother.

And so, as you mentioned, in 2015, the government opened it up to allowing families to have two children each. Because they were beginning to see that the policies had affected China’s demographics. So, essentially, the Chinese population right now is growing older, but there’s a shrinking workforce to support the elderly.

And so now there’s discussion among the state council about what would happen if they got rid of birth limits altogether. And so this is great news for families all over China, especially Christians who believe that God calls children a blessing and who have already decided to have more than two children.

What effect has the family-planning policies that have been in effect all these decades had on Chinese society?

CHENG: Yeah, the effects have been terrible. Because the Chinese people traditionally prefer males, parents will abort or abandon baby girls. And this has led to a huge gender imbalance where there are 115 boys for every 100 girls. So, in effect, there are now millions of Chinese men who won’t be able to find a woman to marry. And this actually causes, it fuels human trafficking and mail-order bride services from other Asian countries.

And beyond that, we now are seeing an entire generation of children who are the only child of the family. And this has caused a phenomenon called the “little emperor” syndrome where there’s one child being taken care of by two parents and then two sets of grandparents. And so not only are they extremely spoiled, but they also face a lot of pressure to do well in school, to go into a top college, to get a good job, because they are essentially the future of that family.

And then, finally, there’s also a personal effect it has on women and families who want to have more than one child, but they can’t afford to pay the fine for an extra child. And then there’s parents who have to make the painful decision to give up their babies. Today, they don’t know where they are or if they’re even alive.

And for some women, this news of banning the birth limit comes too late because even though they may have wanted more children, they are now too old to bear them.  

Will the policy change, loosening up the number of children couples can have, will that actually increase the fertility rate to replacement levels?

CHENG: So, most experts don’t think that it will actually raise the fertility rate to replacement level. Since the two-child policy passed, we’ve only seen a modest increase in the number of births. And part of the reason is that the Chinese government’s propaganda has worked too well. And so people don’t want to have more children because they think it will be too expensive. They think it’s inconvenient, and in their minds, the perfect family still only has one child.

So this is concerning because this change is definitely coming too late and there’s already a lot of momentum going towards just an older population in China, and one of the groups that are working against that are Christians, Christian pro-life groups. And they are going into churches, they’re having different talks and just trying to teach Chinese Christians about the sanctity of life and what God says about life.

June Cheng is WORLD’s East Asia reporter. Thanks so much for talking to us today, June.

CHENG: Thank you, Mary.

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