China switches one child policy

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On October 29th the Chinese government announced its decision to replace the one child policy by a two-child policy. This entails a big change for a society that has been under such law for more than 30 years. In order to predict the transformations that China will be facing in the following years, it is important to know what the old policy consisted of and what consequences it brought about.

The one child policy was introduced in 1979 in order to slow down China’s population growth, as well as to protect its economic development. At the time the population had approached one billion and the economy was not too powerful, so the Communist Party passed a law forbidding families to have more than one child. Overall, in terms of population reduction the one child policy has been successful. However, its achievements came at very high costs for the Chinese. Among the worst, there are phenomena such as violation of human rights and economic disadvantages due to the ageing population and gender imbalance.

It is evident that the one-child policy was immoral in nature. In fact, limiting women’s reproductive rights meant restricting their personal freedom. However, its worst legacy has been the physical and mental torture on those who disobeyed the law and could not afford to pay a fine. Whilst some people lost their jobs and possessions, others saw their physical integrity violated. For instance, pregnant women were forced to undergo abortions or invasive measures of birth prevention and many children were abandoned or killed.

As far as societal aspects are concerned, statistics show that the main outcome of the one child policy is the imbalance amongst the Chinese population. On the one hand, its ageing population will have disastrous long-term effects on the Chinese economy: not only will there be fewer people able to work, but also fewer taxpayers and more pensioners. On the other, the general preference of boys over girls, often abandoned or aborted, has led to a massive male surplus that makes it extremely hard for some men to find a wife and get married.

For all the aforementioned reasons, the current government has thought it necessary to change its political path. Consequently, the new law allows families to have up to two children. However, it was predictable that something would change soon, since a slow policy of relaxation had already started to give some people the chance to have a second child.

Despite the two-child policy being a considerable step towards modernization, it is still far from leading to radical transformations in the Chinese society. Experts are skeptical about it for three main reasons. First, they point out that it is only a partial freedom because Chinese women’s reproductive rights are still limited. Second, they predict that the new measure will not be enough to boost the birth rate as much as needed. Third, they believe that not many Chinese people will take advantage of it. This is partly due to the fact that they grew up indoctrinated with the duty to help stop Chinese overpopulation, and partly because of the difficulty in raising more than one child and taking care of their parents without any siblings at the same time. Last but not least, human right organisations such as Amnesty International are also reluctant to believe that Chinese women will benefit a lot from the new law.

More specifically, they fear that forced abortions and intrusive forms of contraception will still be the government’s response to those willing to have more than two children.

In conclusion, even if the introduction of the two-child policy represents a boost to the rights of Chinese population, it is unlikely to bring about radical changes in the short-term future.

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Eleonora Monoscalco is an Erasmus student from Italy. She writes about the University of Bath and politics.

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