In 1979, China instituted the One-Child Policy that ushered in a horrific population control regime that killed an untold number of preborn babies. Families were limited to one child, and if they conceived subsequent children they could be fined or subjected to forced abortion or sterilization. After growing fears a disproportionately aging workforce, China relaxed the policy and introduced the Two-Child Policy in 2015. Although wrongly hailed as the end of the brutal regime, the Two-Child Policy continued the human rights violations of the brutal Family Planning Bureau.
Last month, news outlets reported that China’s State Council intends to end the Two-Child Policy in favor of “independent fertility,” potentially allowing parents across China to have as many children as they choose. Reports indicate the end of the population control program could be as soon as the end of this year. The news sounds good, but the government’s action likely does not stem from human rights concern but rather from economic imperatives.
After almost 40 years of draconian population control and forced abortion, China has a rapidly aging population, with some estimates suggesting that a quarter of the Chinese population will by over 60 by 2030. Additionally, a strong preference for male children has led to rampant sex-selection abortions and the abandonment of girl children. There are now more than 30 million more men than women in China, a staggering demographic statistic that concerns social scientists.
Commentators speculate that China relaxed the program with the Two-Child Policy in an effort to offset these negative effects, but the results of the updated policy have not been as intended. Initially there was a rise in birth rates following the 2015 change, but in 2017 the birth rate fell 3.5 percent.
Chen Jian, a former division chief at the National Family Planning Commission, said in an interview with Bloomberg, “The low birth rate and low number of newborns from the previous two years after the two-child policy sent a strong message to the decision-makers that the young generation has a weak willingness to have more children.”
Such assessments and the economic imperative of compensating for the aging workforce and disproportionately male population leads some experts to caution that the proposed change may not be what many hope. Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute notes that President Xi Jinping “constantly invokes his China Dream, which is one of vaulting past the United States into global primacy. With that dream now threatened by the dearth of young people, he has decided to ramp up reproduction.”
Mosher suggests that removing restrictions to child-rearing may not be enough to boost the population enough to accomplish Xi’s goals. He explains,
There is no reason to think that allowing couples to conceive at will, instead of on command, will make much difference, either. In fact, I believe that the number of births in China will continue to drop dramatically in the years to come. This will reflect both a shrinking population of women in their reproductive years – remember that tens of millions of females in their birth cohorts have been killed — as well as lower fertility desires overall. Most Chinese women now say that they want no more than one, or at most two, children.
Such numbers will not be nearly enough to reverse the demographic decline that China is now experiencing. Reversing this death spiral and stabilizing the population will require the relatively few women available, or at least many of them, to give birth to three or more children.
Mosher, who traveled as a researcher to China at the beginning of the violent One-Child Policy, witnessed the forced abortions committed on women into the eighth month of pregnancy and saw additional brutalities of the population control regime. From that experience, Mosher speculates that mandatory childbearing may become part of China’s new strategy. Under the rule of a government that does not value human Life and indiscriminately ends 400 million lives as part of a population control program, forcing women to give birth to babies to achieve economic ends is, unfortunately, not so far-fetched.