China’s new move signals the end of one-child policy

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Originally published by Gulf Times on November 15, 2013

China’s planned easing of its controversial one-child policy will allow several million couples, especially in urban areas, to have a second child.

The ruling Communist Party has decided to loosen the policy partly because the one-child rule has left some areas with labour shortages and created severe gender imbalances.

The change is also a response to the rapid ageing of China’s population of 1.35bn people.

The last census in 2010 found that 65-year-olds accounted for 9% of the population – close to the 10% level that the UN uses to define an ageing society, while about 17% of the population was under 18.

The party aims to address such problems, as well as income inequalities, regional gaps and the state sector’s economic dominance, through yesterday’s blueprint for economic and social reform over the next decade.

It has promised to open the economy to private businesses, improve the rule of law and reduce income inequalities.

China Human Rights Defenders last month urged China to “end coercive measures for implementing the one-child family planning policy, and take concrete measures to eradicate forced sterilisation and forced abortion”.

In recent years, Beijing has urged 400,000 family planning workers nationwide to loosen their enforcement of the policy.

But problems are still reported, mainly in rural areas where officials strictly enforce the policy and see the collection of fines as a valuable source of revenue.

The official Xinhua news agency said the one-child policy was designed to “rein in the surging population”. Its introduction overturned Mao Zedong’s disastrous policy of encouraging a high birth rate.

Since China launched the one-child policy in the late 1970s, the traditional preference for boys has led to more illegal gender-selective abortions and sometimes the abandonment of baby girls.

Some areas have recorded male-female ratios for live births as high as 130:100, while even in affluent cities such as Beijing the ratio has reached 109:100.

Many areas of China have tried to reduce the number of abortions of female foetuses by banning ultrasound scans and other methods of detecting gender in the womb.

The government also launched a “care for girls” campaign in 2000 and offered cash incentives to rural families without boys. But in 2007, it admitted that the campaign had not proved successful.

Despite the setback, government experts still staunchly defend the policy, estimating that China’s population would have swelled to about 1.7bn without it.

They say China should keep the policy while adjusting it to suit changing conditions and punishing corrupt and violent family planning officials.

China’s current family planning policy only allows a couple to have two children if both parents are single children.  Other couples in urban areas are restricted to one child, while those in rural areas are allowed a second child if their first is a girl.

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