By Abhiruchi Ranjan
China has long been known for its family planning policies. The country first introduced the ‘one-child policy’ in 1979, replacing it in 2015 with the ‘two-child policy’. But it would appear China’s womb policing policies may be coming to an end.
Last month, China issued new national stamps in honour of the Year of the Pig, with one featuring a ‘larger’ family with three piglets. This has given rise to some speculation that the government may be doing away with its two-child policy. And in August, news reports suggested a draft civil code had dropped all mention of the family planning policies.
Is China finally lifting the limits on the number of children a family can have or will a ‘three-child’ policy be announced instead? What is clear is that this supposed change in policy is coming at a time when China is keen to find a way to ‘fix’ its declining young population.
Impact of family planning policies
After being plagued with extreme poverty and seeing a sharp rise in population, Chinese policymakers launched the voluntary later-longer-fewer policy, which encouraged later births, longer spacing between children and having fewer children. The policy did result in a decline in the births per woman, but fears of a large population led to the one-child policy being implemented.
The much-debated policy has been criticised as being too harsh and an infringement on the rights of an individual. And loyal government employees were only too willing to go the extra mile to ensure the decree was being followed to the tee: women were forced into having abortions and being sterilised, poor farmers saw their homes razed, and countless lost their jobs if they failed to abide by the rule.
But the decades-long policy took another toll on the country’s population—the burden of an ageing population as birth rates declined. The one child was now responsible for taking care of their old parents and perhaps even other relatives who did not have children, placing a heavy financial strain on the individual. Although the state-backed welfare programmes did provide pensions, the burgeoning ageing population meant the government was facing difficulties to cater to their needs.
The policy also resulted in a distorted sex ration since Chinese families preferring sons to daughters. This has given rise to ‘bride trafficking’, with poor women from other Asian countries being trafficked to meet the demand for wives.
The skewed demography also meant a smaller workforce.
Alarmed by this, and not wanting to compromise on this growth, China in 2015 introduced a ‘two-child’ family planning policy. Family development replaced family planning. Words like contraception, sterilisation and abortion were thrown out of the window. Advertisers were deputised to encourage women to marry young and have children quickly. They were also encouraged to avoid abortions even if the child was born out of wedlock.
But this new policy did not bring the expected results. There was no baby boom, and birth rates continue to decline: 17.6 million babies were born in 2016 and 17.2 million in 2017, well below the forecasted 20 million.
Could these issues have forced the Chinese authorities to reconsider their family planning policies?
Many Chinese citizens have reacted negatively to reports of the restrictions being lifted. Middle-aged couples who were discouraged from having more than one child are angry at what they likely see as a delayed reconsideration of the policy give that most of them are now past their child-bearing years.
Nevertheless, if China does indeed do away with this family planning policies, there is no guarantee that this would automatically result in a birth boom. Young couple may not find it financially viable to have two or more children. Besides, the focus on encouraging women to have babies sooner and in quicker succession may mean they will exit the workforce, which would be counterproductive to the economic growth aims.
Whether the policy will be scrapped and for what purpose, and if this will result in an automatic baby boom and economic growth, one can only wait and see.
Abhiruchi Ranjan is a writing analyst at Qrius.