China rethinks its controversial one-child policyThe countrys social engineering has been too successful, reports Clifford Coonan in BeijingSunday, 12 September 2010SHAREPRINTEMAILREUTERSBeijings increasingly affluent citizens are responding slowly to a change of direction from their government which wantsthem to have more childrenMORE PICTURESChinas one-child policy, probably the most audacious exercise in social engineering theworld has ever seen, could be up for review, as Beijing policymakers worry about the effectsof a population ageing fast, with insufficient numbers of youngsters to support them.There is speculation that a gradual rollback of the policy – first imposed 31 years ago – willstart next year with pilot schemes in the five provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning,Zhejiang and Jiangsu.An official at the Population and Family Planning Committee, who did not wish to be named,acknowledged that a change in the rules was being discussed, but added: "There has beenno news about any change in policy from the inner circle of government. Any possiblechange would cause a huge reaction, so the government would take very carefulconsideration before making any official announcement about this policy."Related articlesMore Asia NewsSearch the news archive for more storiesUnder the one-child policy, imposed as a way of reining in population growth which wasrunning at dangerously high levels in the worlds most populous nation, most families werelimited to one child.The aim was to reduce fertility levels to 1.7 children per family, because this was seen asthe only way of improving living standards. At first, couples were encouraged througheducation and propaganda to have one child, but this soon gave way to tougher measures:the early 1980s saw widespread sterilisation, especially among women in rural areas.
This still goes on today and the issue is as contentious as ever. Chen Guangcheng, a blindactivist who was released from jail this week in Shandong province, was imprisoned in 2006after he wrote a report about the status of women in his local area of Linyi, a region withsome 10 million residents. In it he revealed how tens of thousands of people who had anillegal number of children and were ineligible to have any more were compelled to undergolate-term abortions, with others forcibly sterilised. The report included accounts of menarrested and their wives forced to abort eight months into their pregnancies. The policy hasalso led to a serious gender imbalance, with 120 boys to every 100 girls.Chinas working population will fall by around 10 million people a year every year after2025, and the number of young people between 20 and 24 will drop by a quarter over thenext decade. "Young people of this age group are most energetic, productive and willing tolearn," JiBaocheng, president of the Renmin University of China, told local media. He hassubmitted a proposal to reconsider the family-planning policy to Chinas top legislature.China is already experiencing a shortfall of skilled workers – in the south of the countrythere is a particular shortage in the heavily industrialised Pearl River delta. And the specterof an ageing population hangs heavy over Shanghai, where the proportion of working adultsto retirees is low. Experts attending a pensions conference in Beijing last week were toldthat the year 2015 would mark the beginning of the end of Chinas "demographic dividend".By 2050 the country will have more than 438 million people over 60, with more than 100million of them aged 80 and above. There will be just 1.6 working-age adults to supportevery person aged 60 and older, compared with 7.7 in 1975. Government forecastersexpect Chinas population to peak at around 1.5 billion in 2032.Now the problem is not too many children, but too few. Not enough families are takingadvantage of the rules allowing certain citizens to have more than one child, especially inwealthy Shanghai, and family planning authorities there are attempting to encourage moreprocreation. Couples who are both only children, which includes most of the citys newly-weds, are allowed a second child. Also, couples are allowed a second child if both partnershave PhDs, if they are disabled, if they come from a rural area or in some cases if their firstchild is a girl. There are also exceptions for widows, widowers, or divorcees who marrysomeone who is childless. But the main focus of the one-child policy has been on thecountryside, where farmers like large families with lots of sons. Middle-class Chinese in thecities, like the middle classes the world over, have fewer children by choice.The policy is unpopular for many reasons. Teenage boys and girls complain about having nosister or brother to confide in, about adopting their cousins as siblings. Theirtwentysomething single-child counterparts are accused of being spoiled and greedy.Some people are going to Hong Kong to have their second children, putting a massive strainon the maternity clinics in the territory. Some are even flying to the United States to havetheir second babies.There is also growing anger about government interference in the private lives of ordinarycitizens. Three decades of opening up and reform have seen personal empowerment on anunprecedented scale in China, with many families, especially in the cities, going about theirlives without any recourse to the Communist Party and its diktats.Wealthier Chinese, for example, have often had more than one child and simply paid thefine, content to deal with the consequences. Children born in contravention of the policy donot qualify for benefits such as free education or healthcare.A change to the policy would be popular. ZhuoYue, 30, is about to give birth and is veryexcited at the prospect of a softening of the rules.
"A change would be wonderful, because Im about to have a baby and want to have anotherchild in three years. But at the same time I feel pressure, since raising children in big citiessuch as Beijing is so difficult these days for young parents. I mean, although I do want tohave two children in my family, Im not sure whether I can afford that," she said.China is about to embark on a nationwide census on 1 November. To make sure it isaccurate, the parents of children born in contravention of family planning legislation are tobe given identity papers for their children. Normally, these are issued only on payment of alarge fine, so that many parents hide their so-called "black children" who violate the policyby their very existence. So far there has not been much take-up for the amnesty, but thatcould change.The National Population and Family Planning Commission believes that some 400 millionbirths have been prevented by the policy. Whenever voices in the West criticise thisincredible experiment in social engineering, Chinese population experts urge them to thinkof the global ramifications of 1.7 billion Chinese, instead of 1.3 billion.After years of having the one-child message communicated to them a lot of Chinese aresupportive of the broader idea of population control as a way of ensuring the betterdistribution of wealth. "A change would be a great thing, but the statistical work should bedone carefully beforehand, because the coming population increase would also bring a lot ofsocial problems. And, beyond all these, how to balance the new policy so that it is used ina fair way to the whole of society, is also a serious problem that should concern all of us,"said a 39-year-old man surnamed Gao.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-rethinks-its-controversial-onechild-policy-2077152.html