Insights into Editorial: Allowing for a sibling
China, in October 2015, ended its one child policy. This January, China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) announced that there were 17.86 million births in 2016, a 7.9% increase from 2015. About 45% of babies were born to families that already had one child. The NHFPC also anticipates a baby boom, estimating the number of births annually to be between 17 and 20 million by 2020.
Why One Child Policy was adopted by China?
One child policy was adopted by China in 1979 out of the Malthusian fears that unchecked population growth would lead to economic and environmental catastrophe. It was also a response to concerns about food shortages.
Thomas Robert Malthus was the first economist to propose a systematic theory of population. He articulated his views regarding population in his famous book, Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), for which he collected empirical data to support his thesis. He argued that if left unchecked, a population will outgrow its resources, leading to a host of problems.
Changes in the policy over the years:
Under a 2013 relaxation, a couple was permitted to have two children if either parent was an only child. That was an improvement on the 2000 exemption, which allowed couples to have a second child only if both parents had no siblings. There were other concessions too, in rural areas, such as the option to have a second child if the first-born was either a girl or a disabled infant. National minorities were also exempted from the population control policy.
Was the Policy Effective?
In essence, it did bring down the population by 400 million, according to Chinese officials.
- But, it failed to spark a baby boom. When the announcement was made, 11 million couples were eligible to have a second child. As such, officials were expecting around two million births in 2014.
- That figure never came into fruition as only 700,000 couples applied for the new dispensation and only 620,000 were given a permit. In other words, China is facing a huge demographic issue in the next years to come. They have a rapidly aging population where a quarter will be over 60 by 2030.
Negative consequences of this policy:
- The birth of a second child in an urban setting, birth of a second child in a rural setting where the first child was a boy, and birth of a third child to an ethnic minority family would be considered illegal. In many instances, the birth of a girl child would not be reported in favour of a male child. In these cases, the “illegal” child could not be registered with the household registration system (hukou) and, hence, would receive no access to welfare, especially education and health services.
- Substantial fines, loss of job, and incentives for compliance were mechanisms by which this policy was enforced. Many lives were disrupted with the state enforcing the norms strictly, and the social consequences were illegal and forced sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, resulting in a skewed sex ratio.
Why China changed its policy?
China has a population of over 1.4 billion, 30% of which is over the age of 50. There is also huge gender imbalance. Now, China needs more people for joining workforce. The working population in China is coming down and elderly population is going up. So Communist Party of China changed one-child policy to a two-child policy as the country is looking further ahead that China to have larger families.
The government is contemplating incentives to parents so that they would not be deterred by the economic burdens that would result from having a second baby. Providing maternity and paternity leave and provisions for parents to attend to sick children are among the proposals.
However, the prospects of the current approach would necessarily vary, depending on the extent to which people in different regions took advantage of the easing of the earlier norm. A challenge for the Chinese government would be to raise investment in the provision of child-care services, when it is already faced with a large ageing population and shrinking numbers in the working-age population.