Things You Need to Know About China's One Child Policy

As most people have heard, in China, people are allowed to have only one child. But what exactly does the one child policy entail? Does it apply to everyone, and how are these rules enforced? Here's all you need to know...
OpinionFront Staff
Did You Know?
With the high population of China, and many of the people sharing the same surnames, finding unique first names is no easy task. This has resulted in children being given names such as She Bao, Min Zhu, and Aoyun, which mean social security, democracy, and Olympics, respectively. Other variations also include numerals and computer symbols.

At present, there are more than 1.3 billion people living in China, and until a few decades ago, joint families with multiple generations living in the same home was very common. But not anymore. A modern Chinese family usually includes only a man, his wife, and a single child. This change in family structure can largely be attributed to the population control efforts made by the Chinese government.
The National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC) is the government agency that is responsible for taking care of reproductive health and family planning methods across all parts of the nation. As a part of its efforts towards its goals, the organization creates laws and technologies related to reproduction, along with conducting related publicity and education campaigns. Chinese couples are limited in the number of children that they may have according to the legislation of the NPFPC, commonly known as the 'one child policy'. Let's look at the origin and history of the policy, and find out why it was introduced.
History of the One Child Policy
Till the late 1960s, the Chinese government gave their citizens complete freedom to decide the size of their families. Under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong, who believed that a populous China, would be a prosperous China, couples were encouraged to have as many children as possible. All family planning programs were also stopped at this time.
However, by the 1970s many leaders of the government looked at the population explosion with grave concern, as it was adversely impacting the economy, resources, and environment of the nation. It was estimated that between 1949 and 1976, the population of the country had almost doubled from 540 million to 940 million. To counter this, the one child policy was started by the new Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979, three years after Mao Zedong's death. The policy was largely targeted towards urban couples, more so towards the Han Chinese people, who formed the ethnic majority in the country's population.
What Was China's One Child Policy?
The policy was the nation's official endeavor to control the population and reduce the burden that was being placed on the country's resources. The law has undergone quite a few changes over the years, and as of now, it consists of the following provisions.
Who it Applies To
The policy of having only one child applies very strictly to the Han Chinese people who live in the urban areas of the country. This ethnic group represents over 90% of the overall population of the country.
The Exceptions
  • The law does not apply to any of the ethnic minorities. Also, as a little over half of the population lives in urban areas, those Han Chinese families which live in rural areas can apply for a permit to get a second child if the first child is a girl.
  • Another exception is that, if one or both people in a couple was a single child or a disabled military veteran, they can be permitted to have two children.
  • The couple may also apply for a second child if the first child is physically or mentally disabled.
  • If a couple has lost their child due to any reason, they may be permitted to have another child.
  • These laws may also be slightly relaxed in those provinces of the country which have a lower population as compared to its arable land.
  • If a Chinese woman has multiple babies, such as twins or triplets, she will be allowed to keep all the children without any penalties.
Enforcement Measures
  • The NPFPC promotes the policy vociferously at all levels, rigorously monitors all births and deaths, and routinely carries out family inspections.
  • In most provinces, having an extra child will earn you a fine. The amount depends on the province and the income of the rule-breaking couple.
  • In a few provinces, violation of the policy can lead to confiscation of belongings and property, or a loss of the couple's jobs too.
  • On the other hand, those couples who follow the rules get many perks, such as a 'certificate of honor for single-child parents', which earns them monthly stipends, preference for government jobs, tax exemptions, free water, and preference in the child's entrance exams to school.

In spite of these rules, people are often found circumventing the law by exploiting loopholes. For example, couples can get permits for extra children by paying fees or bribes to government officials. They may also try to hoodwink the government by registering extra children under false names in a different province, or stretching the definition of a disabled first child, and getting exemptions if the first born child has even minor health issues such as nearsightedness.
Effects of the Policy
The goal of the one child policy was to have a population below 1.2 billion by the end of the 20th century. Statistics presented by the Chinese authorities suggests that the policy has been very effective, and was almost successful in achieving the target. The officials claim that since its inception, the law has prevented more than 400 million births. Statistics say that over 336 million abortions, 196 million sterilizations, and 403 million intrauterine device insertions were conducted since 1971. This has resulted in a fall of the national fertility rate. Before the policy, the fertility rate was almost 6 children per woman, but now it is 1.8 children per woman. The policy had a wide impact across the country, and displayed a variety of things, both good and bad.
Pros
  • According to officials, one of the positive effects of China's one child policy is that, air and water pollution has been reduced by about 200 million tons (as compared to the pollution that would have been created by an uncontrolled population).
  • In rural China, high rates of birth was one of the causes for poverty. This problem was reduced by the implementation of the policy.
  • The resources of the country are distributed to a smaller number of people, which means that the economy is not strained, and people enjoy a higher standard of living.
  • Families get good perks for following the rules.
  • It is believed that better health, education, and life expectancy have resulted from the legislation.

Cons
  • The policy is considered by most critics to be a dark example of human rights violations, as in their quest to reduce the population, the government restricted the right to decide the size of one family through forced abortions and sterilizations.
  • To escape this law, many Chinese couples choose to move abroad for the birth of their second child, and this means loss of precious human resources to the country.
  • A major disadvantage is the skewed gender ratio in the country, as female infanticide increased greatly after the implementation of the policy.
  • Many female children are also being put up for adoption, which means fewer daughters, wives, and mothers live in China than before.
  • Most children in the country are deprived of the joy of having a sibling.
  • Entire families are known to get fixated with one child, which may lead to the children to getting spoiled and having skewed social skills.
  • In the new generation, these single children will be forced to take care of both their parents as well as 4 grandparents on becoming adults, leading to heavy strain and stress.

Why Was the Policy Relaxed?
Demographers have warned the Chinese Communist party that the policy had to be stopped or drastically relaxed to encourage more babies. This is because, China is expected to have more than a quarter of their population with an average age of over 60 by 2030. This is expected to cause a massive loss in manpower, which is highly essential for the nation's industries. Also, a lot of strain will fall on the reduced younger generation to take care of the large number of elderly and infirm people.
This is why China's one child policy was relaxed in 2013, and many of the exceptions mentioned above were added to the original legislation. As far stopping the policy is concerned, officials predicted that the law would remain active far into the 21st century. However, the strange thing is that, despite the relaxation, few couples have opted for a second child. It seems as though the strong propaganda and efforts of the government in the last three decades has been deeply ingrained in the people's collective psyche.
Debate on its Effectiveness
It has been widely debated that the one child policy has actually not achieved anything at all. This theory states that, at the time the policy was being implemented, China was dramatically changing in its social structure. The poverty level of the nation had reduced significantly, and a very big part of the population shifted from the rural, agrarian settings to that of an urban, industrial economy. Both these factors are seen as the real reasons for the decline in birth rates. The theory gains strength, as other countries such as Iran, Turkey, Vietnam, Lebanon, and Thailand have managed to reduce their birth rates through rising incomes and urbanization.
Whatever the real reason may be for China's success in controlling their population, the policy's impacts are far reaching, and it is still too early to tell whether it should be looked upon as a great achievement or an embarrassing legacy of the cultural revolution era.