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Changes in China's one couple one child policy: An analysis

Recently Chinese government has announced to scrap its controversial family planning system of one child policy after 35 years of its adoption since 1979. Government has now allowed couples to have two children. 

However to understand this move in family planning there is a need to understand the evolution of one child policy & its impact on China & its assessment by experts as anti natal policy to curb population.

In 1950s China was an agrarian economy & was willing to transform into an industrial one so labour was needed to increase the production both in field & in industry thus government encouraged large families. As a result China’s population grew to near 940 million in 1976. This population growth was assisted by decline in mortality rate & better healthcare infrastructure. In beginning of 1970s Chinese government realised the need to curb the population as there was a global debate over a possible overpopulation catastrophe suggested by organisations such as Club of Rome and Sierra Club. Even a communist party official named Song Jian calculated the optimal population for China. It was estimated to be 700 million which China had already surpassed in 1965.  

As an outcome of this analysis in 1979, Deng Xiaoping implemented the one-child policy. The goal of the policy was to make sure that population growth did not outpace economic development and eases environmental and natural resource challenges and imbalances caused by a rapidly expanding population. However amendments were made subsequently in the policy, rural families allowed to have a second child if the first child is a girl or are disabled and Ethnic minorities were exempted.

Impacts of Policy

The one-child policy has been called by experts the “most spectacular demographic experiment in history” and “one of the most draconian examples of government social engineering ever seen”. 

The consequences of one child policy are controversial however as argued on positive side policy saved the valuable resources from overexploitation. Policy led to job access for all graduates and decline in unemployment. There was a fall in the government and people expenditure on nourishing and educating children. It overcome the challenges of food shortage, reduced the poverty, decreased over crowdedness and utilised the demographic dividend to become second largest economy of the world. It is estimated to have prevented up to 400 million births since it was instituted.

However on the negative side policy has wider implications. Policy was strictly implemented with huge fines on violation, inspections and even on cost of human rights like forced abortions, infanticide, sterilizations, prisons and harsh treatment from family-planning enforcement agencies. Those who could not afford to pay found other ways like in extreme cases they resorted to infanticide; others abandoned unwanted infants or sent them to relatives. One result of policy is an unknown number of undocumented citizens, and children who have been denied access to public education or health services. The policy has been creating demographic inversion which resulted into 4-2-1 family structure: four grandparents, two parents and one child, whose earnings the other six may all depend on. 

Sex-selective abortion also became a common trend and preferences for male children increased, this lead to skewed sex ratio of 926 female per thousand male. Share of working age groups in the total population is shrinking which poses worrisome situation for China which needs huge labour supply to feed its strong industrial base. This falling tally of workers and rising number of pensioners has brought into increasingly sharp focus a nagging anxiety: will China get old before it gets rich? A country that does not welcome immigration is facing a long-term demographic problem.

New Changes: two child policy

To overcome these demographic & socio economic challenges, the Chinese government amended the one-child policy to allow couples to have a second child if either parent instead of both is an only child or finally in October 2015 Government decided to allow couples to have the two children at most. New policy is expected to come into effect from March 2016.

How the new Policy is expected to change the scenario?

Critics says it is too little & too late to readdress substantial negative impacts of the one child policy on the society and economy. Many couples who were eligible for second child in 2013 did not take up the chance to have a second child, citing the expense and pressures of raising children in a highly competitive society. The cost and difficulty of child-rearing are likely to deter many eligible couples from having two children despite the relaxed rules. Also as per researches, educated couples in cities like to have only one child & spent more resources on him.

However in spite of such criticism new policy will positively impact the economy & country’s demographic structure in long term. In 2015, China has seen the lowest economic growth in last 4 decades. New policy will help revive the demand & increase the consumption thus helps to maintain the economic growth and stability. After 3 decade when China will be on the verge of losing its demographic dividend advantage then results of this policy will be proven to be life saver for Chinese economy. It will help combat a shortage of labour force in the future. New policy will work as a bridge over gulf between demographic surplus and deficit stage and also improve the balance development of population i.e. improve the sex ratio. It may emerged as a policy of moral persuasion providing a ray of hope to the world that China still have a long way to go. Human right organisations have welcomed the move.

Overall, the changes made by Chinese government in his one child policy will encourage the developing countries to adopt a more sustainable & balance approach toward their population policies thus optimal utilisation of resources to keep the sustainability of economic growth & a balanced demographic structure will be possible.

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