On February 8th, China will be celebrating the New Year with red lanterns and all. But before these festivities take place, eligible parents estimated at 100 million couples according to Lu Jiehua, a sociologist at Peking University will be given the right to have up to two children.
The state revised its law on Population and Family Planning in October which it justified on a need to “promote a balanced growth of the population” and stem “the issue of an ageing population.”
Before October 2015 when the news broke, Chinese couples were only allowed one child. The Chinese authorities instituted the policy in the 70s as a measure to control population growth. Although a relaxed policy was put in place at the beginning of 1987 for couples where both parents were single children, or in cases where the father was a disabled serviceman, the policy was strictly enforced. Regular inspections of women to check they were not pregnant with those found to be being forced to abort and sterilised. The Chinese health ministry has put the abortion figure at 336 million and 196 million for the number of sterilisations.
According to Wang Feng, a leading demographic expert on China, the one-child policy was ineffective and unnecessary since fertility rates were already slowing by the 80s. Fertility rates had soared under the leadership of Mao Zedong who believed that population growth empowered the country. If the scientist who persuaded Deng Xiaoping, the successor of Mao Zedong that a restriction of the population was necessary if China needed to achieve its economic goals after the dismal failure of the cultural revolution, he might not have perceived the other side of the coin.
The Chinese government itself has said that China will be home to more elderly people in just 15 years. It is the fear of this ageing population that will be a burden on healthcare and social services that has led the government to relax its one-child policy.
For organisations like Amnesty International, the state has no business regulating how many children people have and as such, the change in policy is “not enough”. According to the country researcher for Amnesty International William Nee, “couples that have two children could still be subjected to coercive and intrusive forms of contraception.”
As for Wang Feng, “history will look back to see the one-child policy as one of the most glaring policy mistakes that China has made in its modern history.”