Now that much of the worldwide excitement over China’s announcement that it would end the notorious one-child policy has died down, it’s a good chance to examine just how much of an advancement this policy change really is for women and their families.
We can start by taking a closer look at the impacts of the one-child policy before considering the new policy, which will allow all families to have two children, an improvement on China’s human rights record.
Although the Chinese government achieved its goal of controlling population growth with the one-child policy that was started in 1979, it did not succeed in winning over its populace—which suffered horrible consequences, including both extensive personal and collective suffering.
To list just a few of the impacts for couples and individuals, we’d have to consider:
- The abortions that women were forced to have
- The innumerable women who underwent forced sterilization
- The high fines associated with having more than one child
- The loss of employment couples have experienced as a result of the policy
- The number of female babies killed because of a preference for boy children
- The countless health consequences
- The deep emotional and psychological trauma that women and men have suffered, and
- The hidden second children who have not been able to attend school and are considered illegal
The Chinese population as a whole has also experienced:
- A skewed sex ratio of males to females, with men greatly outnumbering women
- An under-reporting of female births
- A decreased labor supply
- Pressure on the health care system from an aging population
- Collective trauma, and
- Too few children available to serve as caretakers for aging parents
The added insult to this suffering is the fact that the policy did not affect wealthy Chinese families the same way it affected families in poverty who could not bribe their way out of negative consequences. Even now, the Chinese government has warned that until the policy is effective in March 2016, strict adherence to the current policy is to be observed.
According to an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, some 90 million women, half of them in their 40s, will be affected by the change in policy. And many women are still uneasy about what the change will really mean for them.
Though some couples are happy they can have an additional child, others question if they can manage financially to raise another child given current financial restraints. And those who do not wish to have children worry they may now be pressured to have children and what form that pressure might take.
It’s hard to say how this change in policy will ultimately play out, and no one has a crystal ball to see the future.
Nonetheless, it is safe to say this government-imposed policy does not allow women, couples, or families the right to exercise personal choices about how many, if any, children they may have. Government policy has no place in making those decisions for women.