China’s One Child Policy: A Success or a Failure?
Population has been a concern for human beings since the prehistoric times. When ice age ended and humans began to linger on the planet Earth they wanted more children. This was because greater family size ensured better protection, nourishment and a comfortable life for the family by the collective efforts of its members. But towards the modern times the world resources seemed depleting to the extent of becoming insufficient to support the exponentially escalating human population. Human beings became more and more fearful of their reproductivity. Thomas Malthus, in 1798, even predicted the end of world. According to him the booming human population would lead the world to catastrophe and global famine in the mid 19th century. In the 17th century the world’s population was less than 550 million and as of today, solely China’s population is more than 1300 millions yet, the world has not faced any calamity due to over population (Heilig). In the mid 20th century China faced the problem of over population and found it difficult to feed so many mouths. Just because of the fear of booming population and dissipating recourses China strictly imposed its one-child policy in 1979 totally neglecting the disapproval of its people. As the years are passing the negative consequences of this policy are becoming more and more obvious but there still exists a controversy whether one-child policy is a success or a failure for China. Although, the policy has been a milestone in reducing China’s growing population and in improving the living standards across the country, however, in long run one-child policy has worsened the China’s issue of aging population, created a dangerously unbalanced male to female ratio, moreover, it is a clear cut infringement of human rights and is responsible for poor upbringing of children.
The proponents of China’s single child policy claim that Chinese government has been successful in reducing the overall population growth rate of the country and thus contributed towards national wellbeing. According to them population decrease has played pivotal role in the evident industrial and economic progress of China. The supporters justify their claim by various statistical facts, for instance, the policy has prevented at least 300 million births (Watts). Moreover, the supporters give credit to China’s one-child policy for reducing the women fertility rate, children per woman, from 4.7 to 1.8 during the past three decades. The data shows that the government has, at least, to some extent got control over population and thus managed to employ the limited resources in the backward areas improving their social and economic conditions. However, the above stated facts only represent half-truth about the effectiveness of one-child policy. The fertility rate has fallen to the optimal rate (1.7-2.0) due to some other factors, instead of one-child policy, like more women joining the workforce, lesser duration of maternity leaves, increasing costs of raising children and stronger restraints on internal migration controls. (YaleGlobal). According to Professor Wang Feng, China's fertility rate was reduced from more than five to around two even before China’s one-child policy (1979) was introduced (Wang Feng qtd. in It is evident that the policy itself has very little significance in cutting down the fertility rate and, thus, the population growth. Another argument in this context is that other countries like Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam have been more successful and efficient than China in casting down women fertility rate and controlling their population. It is important to note that these countries have not imposed any such compulsions and in specific, the Thai government actually lowered the birth rate per woman to a level of just 2 in only 2 decades by providing easy accessibility to contraceptives (The End of China's One-Child Policy?). These examples rescind the importance of the so-called indispensable China’s one-child policy. China needs to acknowledge that there are better strategies to cope with the problem of growing population. In this way China could have also avoided the constantly rising discontent and rebels of its nation against one child policy. Thus, it sounds very hollow and superficial to claim that such tentative results were unable to be achieved without this policy and, therefore, the alternatives like public awareness and use of contraceptives need to be incorporated for better results.
Moreover, the policy is thought to have improved the living standards across the country; however, a careful look into the society proves that the policy has caused overall economic problems for the individuals. The supporters urge that the policy has reduced the population competing for the limited resources and hence there are better opportunities available for the existing people. From 1960 to 1979, the real annual Gross Domestic Product growth rate was calculated to be 5.3% but after the implementation of single child policy and economic reforms (1979-2007) the real GDP grew by almost 10% per year (Morrison). This clearly means that China has the ability to double its economy size in every eight years and owing to reduced population, the GDP per person is also increasing significantly (Morrison). No doubt the high GDP figures of China over the past decades and its emergence as a super power prove that the policy has provided modern China with much progress in a relatively small time period. But the GDP figures are not so preeminent that they over shadow the entire corpus of its drawbacks. Most interestingly, the macro-level economic well being of country has been mistakenly attributed to individual economic uplift and improved living standards of the household. Initially, most families especially in rural areas found that having one child has helped them to save money, ensured a brighter future and better upbringing of their child but the same families present a picture of woe and misery today. Some of these families include the parents whose single grown-up child has either died or the child is unable to support its elderly parents. In such cases the strapped parents are left helplessly alone to face poverty and problems of old age. According to Norah Keating, writer of China Daily, around 3 percent of elderly citizens residing in rural areas get pensions and other benefits. Also, there are few long-term programs (Keating). Elderly people have to rely on the support from their children, who are in more than 30% cases away from their parents. Therefore, the economic conditions of the elderly are deteriorating and they are on a large scale being marginalized. Those who have just one child are more vulnerable to such problems.
Apart from this there also exists another problem for both elderly and younger people. This is called ‘Four-Two-One’ problem which means that sticking to the policy for three generations would end up putting a burden of six people (two parent and four grand parents) on just one earning member. Thus, it is becoming more and more difficult for the single earning member to support his parents, grandparents and his own family at the same time. Owing to this ‘Four-Two-One’ problem many children in China are forced to leave their parents in lurch. Nicolas Retsinas says that in China Roughly 40 percent of seniors currently live alone whereas they should be living in multigenerational homes. Many of them solely rely on state for pension and other basic necessities. The state is unable to fulfill the needs of many of these abandoned elderly people. In the light of above stated facts it can be said that China’s one child policy has ultimately worsened the living standards across the country and it should be banned before it puts further strain on the already reduced working population.
The opponents of the policy assert that the policy has aggravated the issue of aging population in China. The increase in life expectancy along with a fall in birth rates due to strict adherence to one child policy has significantly increased the number of elderly people in China. The ratio of over-aged people to young one has increased to threatening levels. According to 2009 census there are 167 million people over the age of 60. If the policy continued then by 2050 the number of over-aged people will increase to 480 million while there will be even lesser young people (Cost). These statistical figures clearly imply that the work force in China is shrinking at much higher rate. This is because the people entering the work force are much less than the people who are leaving on retirement. A smaller birth rate implies a lesser labor force and hence fewer hands in assembly lines and agricultural fields. Thus, it can be said that China’s birth control policies also pose a threat to their production and economy. Moreover, Chinese government has put the fate of millions of the over-aged people into hands of fewer younger ones. It seems that despite of China’s better financial position it seems difficult for government and young people to support the elderly people. Benjamin Cost further mentions, “Currently, China's care facilities can only accommodate around 1.6% of the people over 60, almost 7% less than the global average”. Recently the GDP growth rate of China has also fallen by 2.5%. According to Ma Jiantang, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, the increasing senior citizens population has forced the government controlling bodies to decrease China’s GDP growth goal to 7.5%, which happens to be the lowest in almost 10 years (Ma Jiantang qtd. in Cost). Thus China’s one child policy has affected its economy by putting a strain of too many over aged people on the government and reducing the workforce available to the country.
The policy has also created an excessively unbalanced male to female ratio in the country. The male to female ratio in China, already being the highest in the word, has further risen to 120 to 100 (LaFraniere). This means that for every 100 girls born, there are 120 boys born. Even a momentary look at the figures depicts the picture of upcoming social problems for China. Sooner China will be having 35 million more boys than girls and this gender disparity will continue in the coming generations. China’s birth control policies have been responsible for creating such a perilous gender disparity. Particularly, one child policy has made Chinese more conscious of the sex of their only child. In case if the upcoming child is a girl, it is often aborted after ultrasound. According to the newspaper Huffington Post, more than 35,000 abortions are performed daily in China and most of them are gender selective, because boys are preferred over girls. Furthermore, the government also provides incentives like free vacations to women who have abortions. If the policy continued the boys will outnumber girls by at least 32 million (LaFraniere). The effects of this gender gap might result into overwhelming social evils. First of all when more than 18% of males could not marry, it’s quite natural for them to get frustrated. Various psychological disorders and anxieties are also likely to be ubiquitous in the males of China. The result of all this is increase in social evils and crimes in the country. According to a US study the rape cases in China (year 2007) were reported to be 31,833, which is almost twice the number reported in 2005 (Marquez). For instance, recently a 28 year old married woman was raped by a local unmarried security officer. The police investigations proved that the attacker was quite frustrated and psychologically unfit (Nie). There have also been various other similar cases of assault in which frustration, anxiety and other psychological disorders were found to be the root cause of increasing social evils of China. Thus, the unbalanced male to female ratio and its consequences demonstrate how one child policy has disturbed the peace and tranquility of China.
Furthermore, the policy is unambiguously a violation of human rights. During the communist period in China the government encouraged the people to have more children but one child policy and its authoritarian imposition form government has deprived people of their basic rights. For the publicity of this policy Chinese government used various detestable slogans and catchphrases like “Raise Fewer Babies, But More Piggies” and “One More Baby Means One More Tomb” (One-Child Policy in China). The parents who give birth to second child are highly fined and punished. Government has also not shown any mercy on pregnant women who were about to give birth to their second child, they were subjected to forced abortions. China has the highest rate of abortion in the world and its law allows any kind of abortion (even forced abortion) at any stage of pregnancy. There have also been many cases in which women have died of forced abortions for instance on October 17, 2011 a woman was caught by Family Planning officials for violation one child’s policy; the officials forced her to abortion and she died in hospital (Gilbert). Some of the supporters of this policy think that a woman’s body is the property of state and state has right to control its production which seems repulsive because people has the right to themselves. Nevertheless, the international welfare organizations like Amnesty International have criticized China for its inhumanity and brutal conduct with its people. Majority of China itself has shown strong discontent for the policy but the government has continued the policy despite of all its negative consequences. Such a gloomy scenario has further given rise to increasing depression and suicide rates. According to various studies 287,000 people commit suicide in China every year and more than 2 million people attempt to kill themselves, this alarming rate implies that a person in China attempts suicide every two minutes (China's suicide rate ‘among highest in world’). All these failures of policy suggest that the policy has failed to achieve the desired outcomes. Just in order to reduce its population slightly, China has paid a much greater cost.
The one child policy has failed considerably in the proper upbringing and socialization of the children, primarily due to three major factors. First of all the children do not have any maternal or paternal aunts. This adversely affects their emotional and psychic development. As these relations and their space is inherent in the human nature. Thus these kids are devoid of the feelings of warmth and affection by uncles and aunts. Secondly, the children also lack the vital relationship of a sibling. As they do not have any brothers or sisters the sense of sharing or supporting each other does not develop in their personalities. Lastly, the single child grabs undivided attention and care of the parents. The continuous pampering by the parents makes children adamant and used to such importance and care. Thus they face a lot of emotional and psychological difficulties in their professional and practical life. The concept of ‘little empress’ and ‘little emperor’ becomes very relevant in this context. Thus the one child policy has failed to provide a suitable environment for the upbringing of the children.
Furthermore, this policy has opened up dangerous avenues for the birth and upbringing of undocumented children (Kuoliang). As the birth of second kid is unlawful, the parents keep these kids concealed from the knowledge of the state authorities. Thus, the second child in most cases remains undocumented. There are more than 50 million unregistered children in China. Such children then have to live a life of misery as they do not have any identity. They are educated unlawfully and then they make a living illegally as they cannot be employed officially. Therefore, this repercussion of the one child policy proves the thesis that it is a failed endeavor by the state.
To conclude, it is evident that although one-child policy appeared as a major contributing factor for the decline in China’s birth rate and an unprecedented rise in the economic growth but such assertions are highly questionable on multiple grounds. Despite the existence of positive relationship between the policy and its intended outcome—a decline in birth rate, the policy has caused many grievous outcomes which include the aging China, rampant gender selective and forced abortions, critical gender imbalance and the abandoning of the parents. Instead of deciphering China’s issue of increasing population, the policy has plunged China into problems which the country can hardly overcome in the coming generations. The multidimensional damage puts a big question mark on the appropriateness and utility of the policy. Therefore, it is recommended that the failed one-child policy should be discarded and replaced with better strategies that also aim at mitigating the disastrous effects of the current policy. It is encouraging to note that China has already made some moves in this direction.
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