China saw the easing of its controversial one-child policy this past December; part of its largest social reform in decades. In the next two years of this new policy, 1 to 2 million extra births are expected in addition to the 16 million people born in China annually.
In mid-November 2013, President Xi Jinping announced a sweeping set of reforms, including the elimination of labor camps. In December, the National Peoples Congress, China’s legislative committee, formally approved the new policies.
This policy shift comes at a time when China is faced with an aging population as well as a labor shortage.
In traditional Chinese ideology, based in Confucian principles, family is an essential component of society and prosperity. Children are expected to be caretakers when their parents grow older.
Although the one-child policy went against traditional cultural principles it was successful in lowering the birth rate. According to United Nation statistics, the birth rate in the early 1970s was 4.77 children to a woman while in 2011 it was down to 1.69.
Implemented in 1979, the one-child policy was introduced as part of a push starting in the 1950’s to control the rapidly growing population. The law limited couples to having only one child with a few exceptions: Ethnic minority couples, rural couples whose first child is female and couples where both parents are only children.
The policy has been enforced by fines and some benefits. Couples who adhere to the policy often pay less for their one child’s education in comparison to couples with multiple children who may be charged more. Fine amounts have also been inconsistent and recently came under public scrutiny when a record breaking fine of about 7.5 million yuan (more than $1.2 million) was placed on Zhang Yimou, director of the internationally famous movie “House of Flying Daggers.”
More controversy surrounded the policy as human rights organizations exposed practices of forced abortion and sex selection resulting from the one-child rule. Because of the cultural value placed on males, practices to abort female fetuses or abandon female babies began. Although prenatal sex screening was banned in 1994 as a result of these practices, China still has the most unbalanced sex ratio of any country in favor of males.
Although the new policy reform has been widely discussed, the reform itself seems minor. Previously, if both partners were single children, they would be allowed a second child. Now, only one partner in the pair needs to be an only child for them to be permitted a second child.
Even with this ease in policy demographers don’t expect a huge boom in the population right away. The new policy will affect between 15 and 20 million people mainly in the cities where cost of living and education is higher. Some suspect people may stick to having only one child for these economical reasons.
Written by Josey Herrera