China's One-Child Policy

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Officials say that China’s family planning policy has prevented approximately 400 million births since being initiated in 1979.[1] Being that the main goal of China’s one-child policy was to reduce the number of children being born each year, it would seem that indeed the policy has been effective. However, some would challenge that the policy, in both principle and practice, has violated basic human rights.[2] To obtain a clear understanding of this debate, a few different angles need to be examined. Firstly, the history of the family planning law will be discussed thoroughly to address the government’s decision to implement such a law. It is important to have an appreciation for the very serious issues regarding the expanding population of China. Secondly, the one-child policy itself will be explained to provide information on the rules, regulations, implementations, and exemptions of the policy. Thirdly, and perhaps most advantageous to determining the success of the policy, the pros-and-cons of the family planning law will be examined. Lastly, the future of the policy in China will be investigated. Has the one-child policy been so successful that the government will keep it in place, unchanged? Or will the government relax the rules of the policy now that the policy has been in place for 30 years?

In the decades before the one-child policy, the mean number of children born per woman in China was a staggering 5.9.[3] As a result of the high fertility rate combined with falling death rates, the population growth rate rose to 2.8 percent, leading to some 250 million additional people by 1970. After a century of rebellions, wars, epidemics, and the collapse of imperial authority, during which the annual population growth was probably no more than 0.3 percent, such an expansion was initially seen as part of China’s new strength, and the beginning of a new century of prosperity. The rapid growth, however, put a strain on the government’s efforts to meet the needs of its people and the government feared the impact the expanding population could have on the economy. The demand of natural resources was becoming too high, it was increasingly difficult to maintain a steady labour rate, unemployment was expanding at an alarming rate, and the rate of exploitation was growing. The rapidly increasing population also caused a large environmental impact that was bound to get worse in the following decades. China needed to reduce its ecological footprint in order to reduce the strain on its ecological resources.[4] In and around the 1970’s the Chinese government promoted a “later, longer, fewer” campaign. This campaign encouraged couples to wait until the later years to marry and reproduce, to wait longer periods between reproducing, and to reproduce less. To achieve this, the government extended contraceptive and abortion services into the rural areas. In addition, each administrative unit of the government introduced a target population and a proposed growth rate, commonly around 1 percent. The government discussed ways to modify its target population’s fertility behaviour, and when necessary, took action to do so. At a local level the government offered collective incomes, allocation of funds for health care, welfare, and schools to those families who took action to abide by the new “later, longer, fewer” campaign. The “later, longer, fewer” campaign helped to reduce China’s population growth rate to around 1.8 percent by 1975. But because half of the population was under the age of 21, government statisticians realized that further growth was inevitable even if each family was quite small. If current trends persisted, there could be 1.4 billion people living in China by the end of the century.[5] It was clear that the government needed to take more drastic measures to guarantee a prosperous future for China. The government implemented the one-child policy in 1979 in hopes of curtailing the population to around 1.2...
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