China’s one child policy was a population planning policy that was introduced in 1979. It subjected about one-third of the country’s population to having only one child. If the policy was violated, the fines could be imposed on families. The Chinese government claims that this policy prevented more than 400 million births.
The one child policy of China was officially phased out in 2015.
The advantage of this policy was that many groups were either exempted or provided specific exceptions from the policy. Ethnic minorities could have more children and families who had a girl could be given an exception to have a second child. It was enforced at the provincial level and was enforced most often in urban environments that were densely populated.
The disadvantage is that the policy put the lives of children at risk. To avoid financially devastating fines, families who were having a second child and didn’t have an exemption would seek out abortion providers or abandon their children outright without identification. For families that wanted a boy and had a girl, this created numerous orphans and murders that were needless.
Here are some of the other pros and cons of the China one child policy to discuss.
The Pros of China’s One Child Policy
1. It was supported within the country.
Countries should have the ability to dictate their own course of societal growth, even if other nations don’t always agree with the policies that are in place. 76% of the population in China supported the One Child Policy in surveys taken in 2006. Although some objections were based on the morality of restricting family size, there are families in other societies that voluntarily do the same thing that China mandated.
2. Multiple births were exempted.
If families had twins or triplets, then the one child policy was not enforced for that pregnancy. A 2006 report in China Daily estimated that the number of pregnancies with multiples doubled during the time of enforcement for this policy. It may have also increased the number of families who sought to use fertility medication so they could have additional children without a financial penalty.
3. It changed the place of a woman in Chinese society.
Because families were restricted to one child, it changed the traditional role of girls and women in Chinese society. Families who invest into their children, allowing girls to go to school, receive vocational supports, and additional training opportunities that may not have been allowed or encouraged in the past. This has allowed the quality of life for the average woman in China to increase dramatically over the past generation.
4. It rewarded compliance with needed goods and services.
To encourage compliance with the one child policy, the Chinese government provided families with a certificate that rewarded them. Education subsidies, housing improvements, a longer leave period from their job, and interest-free loans were just some of the economic benefits that were awarded to families that complied with the policy.
5. It may have increased job opportunities and wages.
With a generation of mostly only children entering the workforce, there would be more job opportunities and the chance for higher wages when compared to societies that did not have a one child policy in place. This could have helped to reduce the levels of extreme poverty that China experienced after World War II and lessened the food shortages that the country was experiencing.
The Cons of China’s One Child Policy
1. The results of the policy are questionable at best.
Although China claims that 400 million births were prevented with their One Child Policy, other nations, such as Iran and Thailand, experienced similar per-capita declines in population without a similar policy in place. The reduction in births is more associated to economic growth than a restriction on family size.
2. It created a disparity in the childbirth ratio.
In mainland China, the ratio of boys born compared to girls born reached a peak of 117: 100 after 1990, which is thought to be above the natural 111:100 ratio that can occur. That meant by 2020, there will be 30 million more men in Chinese society compared to women, which could lead to social instability. It may also be the cause of future emigration in the desire to find a mate.
3. It increased the costs of adoption.
Parents who already had a child faced higher adoption costs because of China’s one child policy. This increased the number of children that were forced to live in state-run orphanages. In the 1980s, high mortality rates in some institutions caused some reforms to occur, but still separated children from their parents. Girls were disproportionally affected by this policy, with some families failing to even register their birth with the government for fear of losing their child.
4. It created care problems for adult children.
Because only one child was allowed, it forced a care burden on the first generation of adult children in family groups. Commonly referred to as the “4-2-1 Problem,” it meant that one child had to care for their two parents and their four grandparents. This created a greater reliance on dependency programs and charitable works for a quality lifestyle to have their needs met. Since 2011, provinces allow couples to have two children if they are an only child to counter this issue.
5. The one child policy created a practice called “birth tourism.”
To counter the problem of the one child policy, some families would travel to a foreign country or to Hong Kong for the birth of their second child. The US was a particularly popular travel destination as most children born in the United States have automatic US citizenship. Many Chinese families would travel to Saipan since it allowed Chinese visitors without a visa, creating birth tourism trips to maintain family structures.
6. It was unequally enforced.
Numerous examples of unequal enforcement of the one child policy have been documented. Filmmaker Zhang Yimou had three children and was fined the equivalent of $1.2 million. In 2005, nearly 2,000 officials in one province violated the policy, but most did not face any penalties.
7. It suggests a violation of what many believe is a human right.
Planning the size of one’s family is believed to be a basic human right. In a 1968 proclamation from the International Conference on Human Rights, it was decided that the number and spacing of children in a family is a basic right of the parents. To accommodate the policy, sterilizations were set and perhaps required, though evidence is limited. Even eugenics were promoted in the past within China as part of the one child policy.
The pros and cons of China’s one child policy are important to discuss, even though the policy has been phased out, because of its economic and societal impacts. Does the government have the right to dictate how big a family should be if that policy is supported by most of the population?