A lesson for population-control zealots from a country that put the concept into bloody practice:
An aging population and the need for more workers have prompted China’s Communist Party to consider relaxing the decades-long ban that restricts most couples to one child, a harsh policy marked by forced abortions, sterilizations and fines for those who have more than one.
In 2011, China will start pilot projects in five provinces, all of which have low birth rates, to allow a second birth if at least one spouse is an only child, says He Yafu, an independent demographer who is in close contact with policymakers.
Beijing, Shanghai and four other provinces will follow suit in 2012, with nationwide implementation by 2013 or 2014, he says.
“In the past, we only focused on slowing population growth,” says Peng Xizhe, a professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University. “It’s much more complicated than we earlier thought.”
The National Population and Family Planning Commission, which enforces the “one-child policy,” refused interview requests. The policy has prevented 400 million births in China, which has a population of 1.3 billion, according to the family planning agency. But a dramatic decline in birth rates and improved longevity over the past two decades have caused China’s population to age at one of the fastest rates ever recorded, says the Population Reference Bureau, a demographic firm.
Also, a traditional preference for boys has led to the abortion of many girls. In 2009, the ratio of newborn boys to newborn girls was 119 to 100, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
For three decades, China’s one-child policy has set family sizes in the world’s most populous nation — and symbolized the tight social controls set by its ruling Communist Party. Exceptions have been made, such as allowing rural farm families to have a second child if the first is a girl.
The need for more children to care for parents, plus a gender imbalance that will leave tens of millions of men without wives, are two arguments for a relaxation of the one-child policy, says Siu Yat-ming, who researches Chinese family planning at Hong Kong Baptist University.
Of course, China will still control how many children its citizens are allowed to have and forced abortions will presumably still continue, both until the new policy goes into effect and to prevent any more than two children. Still, this is some progress.