China: Burial of One-Child Policy again on annual discussion tables, but set to stay until 2015 Print E-mail

 Volume 377, Issue 9770, Page 968, 19 March 2011

The end of the one-child policy in China?

The Lancet
China's one-child policy, introduced in 1979, was a controversial social decision not only for the country, but also for the rest of the world. The policy was launched at the beginning of China's economic reforms, when the country was home to a quarter of the world's population. The Chinese Government at that time saw population containment as an essential component to alleviate its social, economic, and environmental predicaments. In 2007, Chinese authorities claimed the policy had helped prevent 400 million births. They also justified their coercive social experiment by arguing that it had contributed greatly to economic growth. In a survey undertaken in 2008, 76% of the Chinese population apparently supported the policy.

However, the one-child policy has been criticised within and outside the country as a serious violation of the right to reproductive freedom. It has led to forced abortions and sterilisations, maternal deaths among women with pregnancies outside of family planning, female infanticide, and child abandonment.

Last week, in the plenary sessions of the annual Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress, a two-child policy was proposed, to start in 2015. Experts have suggested that the one-child policy has resulted in an increase in older people and a decrease in younger workers, as well as a sex-ratio imbalance, which might threaten China's economic growth.

The debate around China's policy on the number of children allowed by a family deserves greater global scrutiny. The issue should not be one of economics. Instead, it should be about fully realising the right of each woman to determine her own reproductive health and exercise her own choices over the number of children she and her family have. China's economic success has delivered huge benefits to her people. But one benefit yet to be achieved, essential to China's sustainable future, is the expansion of freedoms to enable each individual's life path to be pursued without state coercion. Reproductive health is a vital, and neglected, dimension of those freedoms.

 Note: The final paragraph of The Lancet's comment "The debate around China's policy on the number of children allowed by a family deserves greater global scrutiny ..... etc. etc. " is anything but a newly enlightened notion. Feminists have been saying EXACTLY this for several decades, as per "Reproductive Rights & Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control" by Betsy Hartmann, First Edition published in 1987, with a Second Revised edition in 1995, in particular Chapter 9: China - "Gold Babies" and Disappearing Girls