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China

Time To Abolish China's One Child Policy

Analysis: Implemented in the late 1970's in the face of overpopulation risks, China's one-child policy stands today as an outdated, perverse system that fosters corruption and social injustice.

Two parents, one child: the ideal family according to the Chinese government (Arian Zwegers)
Two parents, one child: the ideal family according to the Chinese government (Arian Zwegers)

BEIJING - For the past 30 years China has imposed a strict family-planning policy to limit population growth: urban married couples are allowed one child only. But as times are changing, the original rationale for the Family Planning Policy as it is officially called, no longer exists. Indeed, there are more and more calls for a change to this policy.

It is time for the Chinese government to listen to its people, to substantially relax this law, and eventually to abolish it.

In 1978, when the law was introduced, China was worried that its population growth rate was a strain on living standards. Today, the fertility rate and population growth have dropped significantly. According to China's 2010 national census, the total fertility rate has dropped to 1.22 (from around 3 in 1980). This is considerably lower than the 2.1 regeneration rate needed to stabilize the population from generation to generation.

The direct result of a slow-down in population growth is an irrational demographic structure. China's population is aging so fast that it now has the "4-2-1" problem. When the only-child becomes a parent, he has to support two parents and four grandparents by himself.

A problematic lack of brides

The longstanding one-child policy has also created a sex ratio distortion. Traditional ideas about the importance of having a son and the modern technical possibility of gender-selective abortion have created a ratio of girls to boys of 100 to 118. This disparity means that millions of young men will grow up with little chance of finding a wife.

Thanks to the rapidly aging population and the unbalanced gender ratio China will soon face a severe social and economic challenge. If one takes into account the lag between population control policy and its socio-economic impact, our current worries about the need to change China's Family Planning Policy are actually already too late. All we can do is make efforts to reduce its negative impact on the next generation.

Among China's most criticized ills is the increasing gap between rich and poor, accompanied by rising social injustice. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of a minority of people. The government's birth-control policy is a perfect example of social injustice: the rich can either afford to pay the penalties and fines incurred for violating the policy - or go to places like the United States or Hong Kong to have their "additional" baby. In certain rural towns, powerful rich families simply ignore the Family Planning Policy.

A normal urban couple caught violating the one-child law has to pay 3 to 10 times their average annual income in fines, an astronomical burden for any ordinary household.

In rural areas, there are many cases where the family planning officers have destroyed families' houses, taken away people's cattle or forced women to have abortions. These are extreme violations of human rights.

Widespread corruption

Having family planning as a basic national policy has spawned a huge bureaucratic system. Seven years ago, the number of full-time officials working for the National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC) was half a million. That number has no doubt risen. As for the economic resources for this huge numbers of bureaucrats, they mostly come from confiscation from the individuals who violate the one-child policy and who pay the so-called "social support payment."

According to reports, China's collection of social support payments from its 31 provinces and municipalities in 2011 totaled nearly $4.4 billion. From 1980 to today, this number is believed to total around $0.3 trillion.

Unfortunately, a big chunk of this money has flowed into the pockets of local family planning officials. Because of "economic incentives', some officials in fact deliberately allowed some women to have more than one child in order to boost their income. In short, this ridiculous policy has turned into a large bureaucratic system rife with corruption and abuse of power. What's the benefit to society?

Some people still claim that the reason why it's difficult to get treated in hospital, attend a school or to find a job is due to over-population -- and therefore, the family planning policy should be maintained. This is simply false. Though China's population base is still large, any adjustment of demographic policy has to come ahead of the curve. Otherwise, when the hospitals or schools are empty, it will already be too late to adjust the situation.

In brief, it's time for China's policymakers to loosen the one-child policy, and eventually abolish it. It should be a priority for the government.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Arian Zwegers

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