China: One Child or Two Children?

By Ridhi Malik

On 29th October 2015, news headlines highlighted China’s new plan to scrap the one-child policy and introduce a two-child policy in its place: Chinese couples can now have two children instead of one. The policy will be put into effect after it is ratified at the annual session of the National People’s Congress in March 2016. Until then, there will only be anticipations as to whether the move is confirmed or not. The ending of the policy is attributed to the reduced number of people available for labour as there are now fewer young people in China.

The one-child policy was introduced in China between 1978 and 1980 to curb population growth. China’s population of 1.4 billion beats every other country in the world. The Chinese Government claims that 400 million births were prevented because of the one-child policy. Fines were imposed on couples who had more than one child, whilst child care and healthcare facilities were offered to families who abided by the one-child policy.

Gender Balance in the One-child Policy:

What needs to be known is that the one-child policy is not applicable to the entire Chinese population. Some ethnic minorities such as the Han are exempt from following this policy. In addition, almost half of Chinese couples are allowed to have another child if the first child is a girl. This demonstrates the patriarchal nature of the Chinese community.

A preference for male children is one of the negative implications of the one-child policy. The gender imbalance in Chinese society is a cause for concern and a change in policy would hopefully see a reduction in this discrepancy. It is believed that the one-child policy in China led to some malpractices such as female foeticide, female infanticide and unregistered births. Undoubtedly, the change of policy would lead to a reduction of such practices.

Older Generation Suffering:

Another major issue with the one-child policy is that when parents get older, there is only one child to support them. As the older population is increasing in China and the younger population has declined in the years after the policy was put in place, there is a stronger need for younger people to work. Whatever the reason — economic or social — this change in policy and practice will have material benefits for the Chinese population. Parents will have two children to take care of them in old age and there will be more young people to participate in economic activities.

Rural areas of China, traditionally believed to have larger families, were harder to control in terms of following the policy. There are no financial penalties if twins are born, so many pregnant Chinese women are still resorting to fertility medicines in order to induce the conception of twins.

“Heihaizi” is a term used in China used to refer to children born outside of the one-child policy. These children are unregistered in the Chinese National Registration System. Literally translated as “black child”, the term points to xenophobic tendencies. A change in policy might alter the mindset of the Chinese population, thus reducing the likelihood of racist attitudes.

China’s sex ratio of 1,080 males to every 1,000 females, is higher than the average global sex ratio of 1,016 males to 1,000 females. As can be seen, males outnumber females. This is a cause for concern because in China — a largely (ostensibly) heterosexual society — many men are finding themselves unable to find a wife.

The new policy would be a positive step towards minimizing the practice of some families to abandon their baby girls. Some conventional families still value boys more than girls, as boys are considered to be the breadwinners, whilst girls are seen as a liability. This change in policy will also have a positive effect on pregnant women as it has been reported that some mothers have been forced to undergo an abortion if they conceive a second child.

The impact of the change on policy is yet to be seen and we can only make predictions. However, this seems a promising step in the direction for gender equality and greater workforce participation.

Author: Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

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