China's One Child Policy

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China is the world's most populous nation and its population has, on average, increased by over 25 people every minute, every day for the past 40 years. (Richards 5) For a developing country such as China, with 22 percent of the world's population and only 7 percent of the world's arable land, rapid and persistent population growth can contribute significantly to the nation's poverty levels and restrain its potential for economic growth. (Gu 42) China's one-child family policy was first announced in 1979. In a 1979 speech, Deng Xiaoping drew the first outlines of a policy to limit population growth, "Use whatever means you must to control China's population. Just do it." (Mosher 50)

Basically the aim of China's one-child family policy was to help slow population growth to 1.2 billion by the year 2000. It was hoped that third and higher order births could be eliminated and that about 30% of couples might agree to not have a second child. (Choi) Since no law exists governing the number of children a couple can have, a series of incentives and disincentives have been designed in order to attempt to give the policy some chance of success. These incentives and disincentives varied from region to region, families with one child would get preferential treatment to include paid pregnancy leave for up to three years, a 5-10% salary bonus, free health care and education, and higher pensions upon retirement. Families with more than one child were excluded from these benefits and were subject to financial penalties, including reimbursement for financial incentives that may have been paid to the family by the government earlier. Contraceptive and abortion services were extended into the rural areas, and there was the extensive promotion of later marriage, longer intervals between births, and fewer children to result in smaller families.

In some of the largest and more advanced cities, such as Shanghai, sizeable proportions of couples had already chosen to have only one child. In a sizable city, both adults would work full-time and without conviences such as refrigerators, tasks such as shopping and cooking were time consuming daily efforts. As a result, it was not long before 90% of couples in urban areas were persuaded to restrict their families to a single child. (Choi)

Rural families, on the other hand, were more difficult to convince. Peasants with limited savings and without pensions relied on their children to support them in their old age. As married daughters moved in with their husbands' families, a son was essential and more than one was certainly better.

The controversy of China's one-child policy begins with its strict enforcement of the policy. The enforcement began with the mandate of women of childbearing age to one child; sterilization for couples with two children (usually performed on the women), and forced abortions for women who became pregnant without permission. Abortions are performed throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy, even up to the point of childbirth. It is common to give lethal injections to viable infants in utero or, if a pregnant mother were brought into the hospital already in labor, as the unborn child begin its descent into the birth canal. (Mosher 50)

Restricting a family to one child results in many couples going to great lengths to have a baby boy. Male babies, by tradition, have always been held more valuable than female babies. The most important reason for this is that the family line dies out if there is no boy. They have greater economic potential and are more likely to look after their parents in their old age because of the expectation of daughters to live with their husbands' family. Eighty percent of the Chinese population earns their living from the land and the work is often heavy and demanding, so those families who have not had a son will continue to try. (Richards 6) As a result, the policy has been more effective in the cities than in the rural areas where the...
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