China has recently scrapped its one-child policy — a law that has spanned millions of lives and several decades. But what is the real impact of the policy on Chinese citizens?
What was the one-child policy?
The one-child policy was introduced in 1979 by the Communist Party in reaction to a combination of a rapidly rising population and food shortages. The party claimed it was concerned about how this combination would affect China’s economic ambitions. So a plan was put into place to cap the figures.
The policy limited families to only one child, and was incentivised with financial and employment rewards. Contraceptives were made widely available — and fines were put into place to penalise those who flouted the law.
According to figures from the UN and the Chinese Health Ministry, the policy has:
- Prevented 400 million births
- Been responsible for an investment of over £460 million each year towards birth control schemes
- Meant that 1.16 boys are born for every girl
- Generated two trillion yuan (£206bn) in fines
According to the Chinese Ministry of Health, there have been over 350 million abortions since the implementation of the policy. That’s more than 13 million a year — or 1,500 per hour.
Sterilisations are also high, with around 196 million sterilisations since 1979. Many of these have been forced — a Chinese hospital was recently forced to apologise after pictures appeared online showing a young Chinese woman in bed next to her dead child, which authorities had forced her to abort seven months into pregnancy following her inability to pay a fine imposed for unplanned second children. Amnesty International is regularly contacted by victims of forced abortion in China.
The future of the policy
Chinese tradition dictates that sons will provide support and security for their parents later in life. Daughters, however, leave the familial home after marriage. In rural households males are also able to provide manual labour. These traditional values, alongside the one-child policy, has meant that large number of girls have been subject to sex-selective abortions or, after birth, been abandoned or placed in orphanages. The vast majority of children in orphanages in China are female — a report from The Atlantic put female figures in one Chinese orphanage at 90 percent.
And many activists have responded negatively to China’s abandonment of the policy, claiming that China’s government is still approaching women’s reproductive rights in a restrictive and paternalistic way. It isn’t yet clear how or when the new policy will be implemented, nor how it will affect both population figures and cultural attitudes towards childrearing in China. But Amnesty International claimed in a statement that the reform of the one-child policy was “not enough”.
“Chinese women will remain at risk of intrusive forms of contraception and coerced or forced abortions, despite the authorities announcing a change to the country’s decades-long one-child policy,” it said in a statement.
“The state has no business regulating how many children people have. If China is serious about respecting human rights, the government should immediately end such invasive and punitive controls over people’s decisions to plan families and have children.”
Understanding the scale of the one-child policy
China’s one-child policy has prevented 400 million births since it was implemented, according to the UN and Chinese Health Ministry.
In the image below, each symbol of a baby in a pram represents 100,000 children not born as a result of the one-child policy.