One-child policy

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The one-child policy was part of a birth planning program designed to control the size of the rapidly growing population of the People's Republic of China.[1] Distinct from the family planning policies of most other countries, which focus on providing contraceptive options to help women have the number of children they want, it set a limit on the number of births parents could have, making it the world's most extreme example of population planning. It was introduced in 1979 (after a decade-long two-child policy),[2] modified beginning in the mid 1980s to allow rural parents a second child if the first was a daughter, and then lasted three more decades before the government announced in late 2015 a reversion to a two-child limit.[3][4] The policy also allowed exceptions for some other groups, including ethnic minorities. Thus, the term "one-child policy" has been called a "misnomer", because for nearly 30 of the 36 years that it existed (1979–2015), about half of all parents in China were allowed to have a second child.[5][6][7]

To enforce existing birth limits (of one or two children), provincial governments could, and did, require the use of contraception, abortion, and sterilization to ensure compliance, and imposed enormous fines for violations. Local and national governments created commissions to promote the program and monitor compliance. China also rewarded families with one child, in accordance with the instructions on further family planning issued by the Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council in that year, regulations awarded 5 yuan per month for families with one child. Parents who had only one child would also get a "one-child glory certificate".[8]

The impact of China's birth restrictions has been hotly debated. According to its government, 400 million births were prevented. That statistic originally referred to all births averted since 1970,[9] although later it referred to just the one-child era beginning around 1980. Some scholars have disputed the official estimates. They claim that the one-child program had little effect on birth rates or the size of the total population when one considers the large drop in fertility during the two-child decade preceding it and that other countries – such as Thailand and the Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu – experienced notable fertility declines without official birth quotas.[10][11][12][13] A recent study even suggests that, contrary to popular belief and its government's intentions, the one-child phase of the birth program had a pronatal effect that raised birth rates above what they otherwise would have been.[14] Yet this study has itself been disputed as an implausible "erasure of the impact of this program from history.[15] Moreover, the comparative models proposed by those dismissing official estimates as exaggerations[14][11] imply that, even when China's rapid development is considered, its birth program since 1970 has already averted at least 600 million births, a number projected to grow to one billion or more by 2060 given the averted descendants of the births originally averted by policy.[16][17][18][15] The real dispute concerns what portion of that massive number of averted births (and population) should be attributed to the tightened one-child limits (and related enforcements) after 1980, as opposed to the two-child program that preceded it.

China's population since 1950


Birth rate in China

During the period of Mao Zedong's leadership in China, the birth rate fell from 37 per thousand to 20 per thousand.[19] Infant mortality declined from 227 per thousand births in 1949 to 53 per thousand in 1981, and life expectancy dramatically increased from around 35 years in 1948 to 66 years in 1976.[19][20] Until the 1960s, the government encouraged families to have as many children as possible[21] because of Mao's belief that population growth empowered the country, preventing the emergence of family planning programs earlier in China's development.[22] The population grew from around 540 million in 1949 to 940 million in 1976.[23] Beginning in 1970, citizens were required to marry at later ages and many were limited to have only two children.[2]

Although China's fertility rate plummeted faster than anywhere else in the world during the 1970s under these restrictions, the Chinese government thought that fertility was still too high, influenced by the global debate over a possible overpopulation crisis suggested by organizations such as the Club of Rome and the Sierra Club. In response, the authorities began encouraging one-child families in 1978, and in 1979 announced that they intended to advocate for one-child families. In 1980, the central government organized a meeting in Chengdu to discuss the speed and scope of one-child restrictions.[2]

One participant at the Chengdu meeting had read two influential books about population concerns, The Limits to Growth and A Blueprint for Survival, while visiting Europe in 1979. That official, Song Jian, along with several associates, determined that the ideal population of China was 700 million, and that a universal one-child policy for all would be required to meet that goal.[24] Moreover, Song and his group showed that if fertility rates remained constant at 3 births per woman, China's population would surpass 3 billion by 2060 and 4 billion by 2080.[2] In spite of some criticism inside the party, the plan (also referred to as the Family Planning Policy[25]) was formally implemented as a temporary measure on 18 September 1980.[26][27][28][29] The plan called for families to have one child each in order to curb a then-surging population and alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China.[30][31]

Although a recent and often-repeated interpretation by Greenhalgh claims that Jian was the central architect of the one-child policy and that he "hijacked" the population policy making process,[32] that claim has been refuted by several leading scholars, including Liang Zhongtang, a leading internal critic of one-child restrictions and an eye-witness at the discussions in Chengdu.[33] In the words of Wang et al., "the idea of the one-child policy came from leaders within the Party, not from scientists who offered evidence to support it”[10] Central officials had already decided in 1979 to advocate for one-child restrictions before knowing of Song's work and, upon learning of his work in 1980, already seemed sympathetic to his position.[34] Moreover, even if Song's work convinced them to proceed with universal one-child restrictions in 1980, the policy was loosened to a "1.5"-child policy just five years later, and it is that policy which has been misrepresented since as the "one-child policy". Thus, it is misleading to suggest that Jian was either the inventor or architect of the policy.


The one-child policy was originally designed to be a "One-Generation Policy".[35] It was enforced at the provincial level and enforcement varied; some provinces had more relaxed restrictions. The one-child limit was most strictly enforced in densely populated urban areas.[36] When this policy was first introduced, 6.1 million families that had already given birth to a child were given the "One Child Honorary Certificates". This was a pledge they had to make to ensure they would not have more children.[37]

Beginning in 1980, the official policy granted local officials the flexibility to make exceptions and allow second children in the case of "practical difficulties" (such as cases in which the father was a disabled serviceman) or when both parents were single children,[38] and some provinces had other exemptions worked into their policies as well. In most areas, families were allowed to apply to have a second child if their first-born was a daughter.[39][40] Furthermore, families with children with disabilities have different policies and families whose first child suffers from physical disability, mental illness, or intellectual disability were allowed to have more children.[41] However, second children were sometimes subject to birth spacing (usually 3 or 4 years). Children born in overseas countries were not counted under the policy if they did not obtain Chinese citizenship. Chinese citizens returning from abroad were allowed to have a second child.[42] Sichuan province allowed exemptions for couples of certain backgrounds.[43] By one estimate there were at least 22 ways in which parents could qualify for exceptions to the law towards the end of the one-child policy's existence.[44] As of 2007, only 36% of the population were subjected to a strict one-child limit. 53% were permitted to have a second child if their first was a daughter; 9.6% of Chinese couples were permitted two children regardless of their gender; and 1.6% – mainly Tibetans – had no limit at all.[45]

The Danshan, Sichuan Province Nongchang Village people Public Affairs Bulletin Board in September 2005 noted that RMB 25,000 in social compensation fees were owed in 2005. Thus far 11,500 RMB had been collected, so another 13,500 RMB had to be collected.

Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, a new exception to the regulations was announced in Sichuan for parents who had lost children in the earthquake.[46][47] Similar exceptions had previously been made for parents of severely disabled or deceased children.[48] People have also tried to evade the policy by giving birth to a second child in Hong Kong, but at least for Guangdong residents, the one-child policy was also enforced if the birth was given in Hong Kong or abroad.[49]

In accordance with China's affirmative action policies towards ethnic minorities, all non-Han ethnic groups are subjected to different laws and were usually allowed to have two children in urban areas, and three or four in rural areas. Han Chinese living in rural towns were also permitted to have two children.[50] Because of couples such as these, as well as those who simply paid a fine (or "social maintenance fee") to have more children,[51] the overall fertility rate of mainland China was close to 1.4 children per woman as of 2011.[52]

On 6 January 2010, the former National Population and Family Planning Commission issued the "national population development" 12th five-year plan.[53]



The Family Planning Policy was enforced through a financial penalty in the form of the "social child-raising fee", sometimes called a "family planning fine" in the West, which was collected as a fraction of either the annual disposable income of city dwellers or of the annual cash income of peasants, in the year of the child's birth.[54] For instance, in Guangdong, the fee was between 3 and 6 annual incomes for incomes below the per capita income of the district, plus 1 to 2 times the annual income exceeding the average. The family was required to pay the fine.[55]

The one-child policy was a tool for China to not only address overpopulation, but to also address poverty alleviation and increase social mobility by consolidating the combined inherited wealth of the two previous generations into the investment and success of one child instead of having these resources spread thinly across multiple children. This theoretically provided financial stability and the ability to make discretionary spend and increasing economic growth and gross national income per capita.

Mandatory contraception and sterilization

As part of the policy, women were required to have a contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) surgically installed after having a first child, and to be sterilized by tubal ligation after having a second child. From 1980 to 2014, 324 million Chinese women were fitted with IUDs in this way and 108 million were sterilized. Women who refused these procedures – which many resented – could lose their government employment and their children could lose access to education or health services and have any privileges revoked. The IUDs installed in this way were modified such that they could not be removed manually, but only through surgery.

In 2016, following the abolition of the one-child policy, the Chinese government announced that IUD removals would now be paid for by the government.[56]


In 2013, Deputy Director Wang Peian of the National Health and Family Planning Commission said that "China's population will not grow substantially in the short term".[57] A survey by the commission found that only about half of eligible couples wish to have two children, mostly because of the cost of living impact of a second child.[58]

In November 2013, following the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC, China announced the decision to relax the one-child policy. Under the new policy, families could have two children if one parent, rather than both parents, was an only child.[59][60] This mainly applied to urban couples, since there were very few rural only children due to long-standing exceptions to the policy for rural couples.[61] Zhejiang, one of the most affluent provinces, became the first area to implement this "relaxed policy" in January 2014,[62] and 29 out of the 31 provinces had implemented it by July 2014,[63] with the exceptions of Xinjiang and Tibet. Under this policy, approximately 11 million couples in China were allowed to have a second child; however, only "nearly one million" couples applied to have a second child in 2014,[64] less than half the expected number of 2 million per year.[63] By May 2014, 241,000 out of 271,000 applications had been approved. Officials of China's National Health and Family Planning Commission claimed that this outcome was expected, and that "second-child policy" would continue progressing with a good start.[65]


In October 2015, the Chinese news agency Xinhua announced plans of the government to abolish the one-child policy, now allowing all families to have two children, citing from a communiqué issued by the CPC "to improve the balanced development of population" – an apparent reference to the country's female-to-male sex ratio – and to deal with an aging population according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.[30][66][67][68][69][70][71][72] The new law took effect on 1 January 2016 after it was passed in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on 27 December 2015.[73][74]

The rationale for the abolition was summarized by former Wall Street Journal reporter Mei Fong: "The reason China is doing this right now is because they have too many men, too many old people, and too few young people. They have this huge crushing demographic crisis as a result of the one-child policy. And if people don't start having more children, they're going to have a vastly diminished workforce to support a huge aging population."[75] China's ratio is about five working adults to one retiree; the huge retiree community must be supported, and that will dampen future growth, according to Fong.

Since the citizens of China are living longer and having fewer children, the growth of the population imbalance is expected to continue. A United Nations projection forecast that "China will lose 67 million working-age people by 2030, while simultaneously doubling the number of elderly. That could put immense pressure on the economy and government resources."[30] The longer term outlook is also pessimistic, based on an estimate by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, revealed by Cai Fang, deputy director. "By 2050, one-third of the country will be aged 60 years or older, and there will be fewer workers supporting each retired person."[76]

Although many critics of China's reproductive restrictions approve of the policy's abolition, Amnesty International said that the move to the two-child policy would not end forced sterilizations, forced abortions, or government control over birth permits.[77][78] Others also stated that the abolition is not a sign of the relaxation of authoritarian control in China. A reporter for CNN said, "It was not a sign that the party will suddenly start respecting personal freedoms more than it has in the past. No, this is a case of the party adjusting policy to conditions. [...] The new policy, raising the limit to two children per couple, preserves the state's role."[79][80]

The abolition may not achieve a significant benefit, as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation analysis indicated: "Repealing the one-child policy may not spur a huge baby boom, however, in part because fertility rates are believed to be declining even without the policy's enforcement. Previous easings of the one-child policy have spurred fewer births than expected, and many people among China's younger generations see smaller family sizes as ideal."[30] The CNN reporter adds that China's new prosperity is also a factor in the declining[76] birth rate, saying, "Couples naturally decide to have fewer children as they move from the fields into the cities, become more educated, and when women establish careers outside the home."[79]

The Chinese government had expected the abolishing of the one-child rule would lead to an increase in births to about 21.9 million births in 2018. The actual number of births was 15.2 million - the lowest birth rate since 1961.[81]


The one-child policy was managed by the National Population and Family Planning Commission under the central government since 1981. The Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China and the National Population and Family Planning Commission were made defunct and a new single agency National Health and Family Planning Commission took over national health and family planning policies in 2013. The agency reports to the State Council.

The policy was enforced at the provincial level through fines that were imposed based on the income of the family and other factors. "Population and Family Planning Commissions" existed at every level of government to raise awareness and carry out registration and inspection work.[82]


Fertility reduction: Debates over the roles of policy vs. socio-economic change

The progression of China's population pyramid, International Futures.

The fertility rate in China continued its fall from 2.8 births per woman in 1979 (already a sharp reduction from more than five births per woman in the early 1970s) to 1.5 by the mid 1990s. Some scholars claim that this decline is similar to that observed in other places that had no one-child restrictions, such as Thailand as well as Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, a claim designed to support the argument that China's fertility might have fallen to such levels anyway without draconian fertility restrictions.[10][83][13][84]

According to a 2017 study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, "the one-child policy accelerated the already-occurring drop in fertility for a few years, but in the longer term, economic development played a more fundamental role in leading to and maintaining China's low fertility level.".[85] However, a more recent study found that China's fertility decline to very low levels by the mid 1990s was far more impressive given its lower level of socio-economic development at that time;[18] even after taking rapid economic development into account, China's fertility restrictions likely averted over 500 million births between 1970 and 2015, with the portion caused by one-child restrictions possibly totaling 400 million.[16] Fertility restrictions also had other unintended consequences, such as a deficit of 40 million female babies. Most of this deficit was due to sex-selective abortion as well as the 1.5 child stopping rule, which required rural parents to stop childbearing if their first born was a son.[86] Another consequence was the acceleration of the aging of China's population.[87][88]

Disparity in sex ratio at birth

The sex ratio at birth in People's Republic of China, males per 100 females, 1980–2010.

The sex ratio of a newborn infant (between male and female births) in mainland China reached 117:100, and stabilized between 2000 and 2013, about 10% higher than the baseline, which ranges between 103:100 and 107:100. It had risen from 108:100 in 1981—at the boundary of the natural baseline—to 111:100 in 1990.[89] According to a report by the National Population and Family Planning Commission, there will be 30 million more men than women in 2020, potentially leading to social instability, and courtship-motivated emigration.[90] The number of 30 million cited for the sex disparity is, however, likely very exaggerated, as birth statistics is skewed by late registrations and unreported births: for instance, researchers found that census statistics of women in later stages of their life do not match with the birth statistics.[91]

The disparity in the gender ratio at birth increases dramatically after the first birth, for which the ratios remained steadily within the natural baseline over the 20 year interval between 1980 and 1999. Thus, a large majority of couples appear to accept the outcome of the first pregnancy, whether it is a boy or a girl. If the first child is a girl, and they are able to have a second child, then a couple may take extraordinary steps to assure that the second child is a boy. If a couple already has two or more boys, the sex ratio of higher parity births swings decidedly in a feminine direction. This demographic evidence indicates that while families highly value having male offspring, a secondary norm of having a girl or having some balance in the sexes of children often comes into play. Zeng 1993 reported a study based on the 1990 census in which they found sex ratios of just 65 or 70 boys per 100 girls for births in families that already had two or more boys.[92] A study by Anderson & Silver (1995) found a similar pattern among both Han and non-Han nationalities in Xinjiang Province: a strong preference for girls in high parity births in families that had already borne two or more boys.[93] This tendency to favour girls in high parity births to couples who had already borne sons was later also noted by Coale and Banister, who suggested as well that once a couple had achieved its goal for the number of males, it was also much more likely to engage in "stopping behavior", i.e., to stop having more children.[94]

The long-term disparity has led to a significant gender imbalance or skewing of the sex ratio. As reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, China has between 32 million and 36 million more males than would be expected naturally, and this has led to social problems. "Because of a traditional preference for baby boys over girls, the one-child policy is often cited as the cause of China's skewed sex ratio [...] Even the government acknowledges the problem and has expressed concern about the tens of millions of young men who won't be able to find brides and may turn to kidnapping women, sex trafficking, other forms of crime or social unrest."[30] The situation will not improve in the near future. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, there will be 24 million more men than women of marriageable age by 2020.[95]


The effect of the one-child policy on female education is not known. Prior to the one-child policy, roughly 30% of women attended higher education, whereas between 1990 and 1992, 50 percent of students in higher education were women. The higher participation rate of women in education could be attributed to the lack of male siblings. As the result, families placed investment in their single female child.[96] According to Journal of Economic Perspectives, "existing studies indicate either a modest or minimal effect of the fertility change induced by the one-child policy on children education".[85]

Adoption and abandonment

A roadside sign in rural Sichuan: "It is forbidden to discriminate against, mistreat or abandon baby girls."

For parents who had "unauthorized" births, or who wanted a son but had a daughter, giving up their child for adoption was a strategy to avoid penalties under one-child restrictions. Many families also kept their illegal children hidden so that they would not be punished by the government.[97] In fact, "out adoption" was not uncommon in China even before birth planning. In the 1980s, adoptions of daughters accounted for slightly above half of the so-called "missing girls", as out-adopted daughters often went unreported in censuses and surveys, while adoptive parents were not penalized for violating the birth quota.[98] However, in 1991, a central decree attempted to close off this loophole by raising penalties and levying them on any household that had an "unauthorized" child, including those which had adopted children.[99] This closing of the adoption loophole resulted in the abandonment of some two million Chinese children, most of whom were daughters;[18] many of these children ended up in orphanages, with approximately 120,000 of them being adopted by parents from abroad.

The peak wave of abandonment occurred in the 1990s, with a smaller wave after 2000.[99] Around the same time, poor care and high mortality rates in some state orphanages generated intense international pressure for reform.[100][101]

After 2005, the number of international adoptions declined, due both to falling birth rates and the related increase in demand for adoptions by Chinese parents themselves. In an interview with National Public Radio on 30 October 2015, Adam Pertman,[102] president and CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, indicated that "the infant girls of yesteryear have not been available, if you will, for five, seven years. China has been ... trying to keep the girls within the country ... And the consequence is that, today, rather than those young girls who used to be available – primarily girls – today, it's older children, children with special needs, children in sibling groups. It's very, very different."[103]


Since there are no penalties for multiple births, it is believed that an increasing number of couples are turning to fertility medicines to induce the conception of twins. According to a 2006 China Daily report, the number of twins born per year was estimated to have doubled.[timeframe?][104]

Quality of life for women

The one-child policy's limit on the number of children resulted in new mothers having more resources to start investing money in their own well-being. As a result of being an only child, women have increased opportunity to receive an education, and support to get better jobs. One of the side effects of the one-child policy is to have liberated women from heavy duties in terms of taking care of many children and the family in the past; instead, women had a lot of spare time for themselves to pursue their career or hobbies. The other major "side effect" of the one-child policy is that the traditional concepts of gender roles between men and women have weakened. Being one and the only "chance" the parents have, women are expected to compete with peer men for better educational resources or career opportunities. Especially in cities where one-child policy was much more regulated and enforced, expectations on women to succeed in life are no less than on men. Recent data has shown that the proportion of women attending college is higher than that of men. The policy also has a positive effect at 10 to 19 years of age on the likelihood of completing senior high school in women of Han ethnicity. At the same time, the one-child policy reduces the economic burden for each family. The condition for each family has become better. As a result, women also have much more freedom within the family. They are supported by their family to pursue their life achievements.[105]

Healthcare improvements

It is reported that the focus of China on population planning helps provide a better health service for women and a reduction in the risks of death and injury associated with pregnancy. At family planning offices, women receive free contraception and pre-natal classes that contributed to the policy's success in two respects. First, the average Chinese household expends fewer resources, both in terms of time and money, on children, which gives many Chinese people more money with which to invest. Second, since Chinese adults can no longer rely on children to care for them in their old age, there is an impetus to save money for the future.[106]

"Four-two-one" problem

A white sign with two lines of red Chinese characters and a smaller one beneath them on a background of white tile
A government sign in Tangshan Township: "For a prosperous, powerful nation and a happy family, please practice family planning."

As the first generation of law-enforced only-children came of age for becoming parents themselves, one adult child was left with having to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents.[107][108] Called the "4-2-1 Problem", this leaves the older generations with increased chances of dependency on retirement funds or charity in order to receive support. If not for personal savings, pensions, or state welfare, most senior citizens would be left entirely dependent upon their very small family or neighbours for assistance. If for any reason, the single child is unable to care for their older adult relatives, the oldest generations would face a lack of resources and necessities. In response to such an issue, by 2007, all provinces in the nation except Henan had adopted a new policy allowing couples to have two children if both parents were only children themselves;[109][failed verification][110] Henan followed in 2011.[111]

Unregistered children

Heihaizi (Chinese: 黑孩子; pinyin: hēiháizi) or "black child" is a term denoting children born outside the one-child policy, or generally children who are not registered in the Chinese national household registration system.

Being excluded from the family register means they do not possess a Hukou, which is "an identifying document, similar in some ways to the American social security card".[112] In this respect they do not legally exist and as a result cannot access most public services, such as education and health care, and do not receive protection under the law.[113][114][115]

Potential social problems

Some parents may over-indulge their only child. The media referred to the indulged children in one-child families as "little emperors".[116] Since the 1990s, some people have worried that this will result in a higher tendency toward poor social communication and cooperation skills among the new generation, as they have no siblings at home. This is coupled with a lack of uncles and aunts for the next generation. No social studies have investigated the ratio of these so-called "over-indulged" children and to what extent they are indulged. With the first generation of children born under the policy (which initially became a requirement for most couples with first children born starting in 1979 and extending into the 1980s) reaching adulthood, such worries were reduced.[117]

However, the "little emperor syndrome" and additional expressions, describing the generation of Chinese singletons, are very abundant in the Chinese media, Chinese academia and popular discussions. Being over-indulged, lacking self-discipline and having no adaptive capabilities are traits that are highly associated with Chinese singletons by older generations.[118] However, Toni Falbo, a professor of educational psychology and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, who has conducted studies on tens of thousands of singleton children from both the US and China since the '70s, came to the conclusion that no measurable differences exist in terms of sociability and characterization between singleton children and multi-sibling children except that single children scored higher on intelligence and achievement – due to a lack of “dilution of resources”.[119]

Some 30 delegates called on the government in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March 2007 to abolish the one-child rule, citing "social problems and personality disorders in young people". One statement read, "It is not healthy for children to play only with their parents and be spoiled by them: it is not right to limit the number to two children per family, either."[120] The proposal was prepared by Ye Tingfang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who suggested that the government at least restore the previous rule that allowed couples to have up to two children. According to a scholar, "The one-child limit is too extreme. It violates nature's law and, in the long run, this will lead to mother nature's revenge."[120][121]

Birth tourism

Reports surfaced of Chinese women giving birth to their second child overseas, a practice known as birth tourism. Many went to Hong Kong, which is exempt from the one-child policy. Likewise, a Hong Kong passport differs from China's mainland passport by providing additional advantages. Recently[when?] though, the Hong Kong government has drastically reduced the quota of births set for non-local women in public hospitals. As a result, fees for delivering babies there have surged. As further admission cuts or a total ban on non-local births in Hong Kong are being considered, mainland agencies that arrange for expectant mothers to give birth overseas are predicting a surge in those going to North America.[122][unreliable source?]

As the United States practises birthright citizenship, all children born in the US will automatically have US citizenship. The closest US location from China is Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US dependency in the western Pacific Ocean that allows Chinese visitors without visa restrictions. As of 2012, the island was experiencing an upswing in Chinese births, since birth tourism there had become cheaper than to Hong Kong. This option is used by relatively affluent Chinese who often have secondary motives as well, wishing their children to be able to leave mainland China when they grow older or bring their parents to the US. Canada, compared to the US, is less achievable as their government denies many visa requests.[123][124]

Sex-selective abortion

Due to the preference in Rural Chinese society to give birth to a son,[125] prenatal sex discernment and sex-selective abortions are illegal in China.[126] Often argued as one of the key factors in the imbalanced sex-ratio in China, as excess female infant mortality and underreporting of female births cannot solely explain this gender disparity.[127] Researchers have found that the gender of the firstborn child in rural parts of China impacts whether or not the mother will seek an ultrasound for the second child. 40% of women with a firstborn son seek an ultrasound for their second pregnancy, versus 70% of women with firstborn daughters. This clearly depicts a desire for women to birth a son if one has not yet been birthed.[128] In response to this, the Chinese government made sex-selective abortions illegal in 2005.[128]


The policy is controversial outside China for many reasons, including accusations of human rights abuses in the implementation of the policy, as well as concerns about negative social consequences.[129]

Statement of the effect of the policy on birth reduction

The Chinese government, quoting Zhai Zhenwu, director of Renmin University's School of Sociology and Population in Beijing, estimates that 400 million births were prevented by the one-child policy as of 2011, while some demographers challenge that number, putting the figure at perhaps half that level, according to CNN.[130] Zhai clarified that the 400 million estimate referred not just to the one-child policy, but includes births prevented by predecessor policies implemented one decade before, stating that "there are many different numbers out there but it doesn't change the basic fact that the policy prevented a really large number of births".[131]

This claim is disputed by Wang Feng, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, and Cai Yong from the Carolina Population Center at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill[131] Wang claims that "Thailand and China have had almost identical fertility trajectories since the mid 1980s", and "Thailand does not have a one-child policy."[131] China's Health Ministry has also disclosed that at least 336 million abortions were performed on account of the policy.[132]

According to a report by the US embassy, scholarship published by Chinese scholars and their presentations at the October 1997 Beijing conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population seemed to suggest that market-based incentives or increasing voluntariness is not morally better but that it is, in the end, more effective.[133] In 1988, Zeng Yi and Professor T. Paul Schultz of Yale University discussed the effect of the transformation to the market on Chinese fertility, arguing that the introduction of the contract responsibility system in agriculture during the early 1980s weakened family planning controls during that period.[134] Zeng contended that the "big cooking pot" system of the People's Communes had insulated people from the costs of having many children. By the late 1980s, economic costs and incentives created by the contract system were already reducing the number of children farmers wanted.

A long-term experiment in a county in Shanxi, in which the family planning law was suspended, suggested that families would not have many more children even if the law were abolished.[44] A 2003 review of the policy-making process behind the adoption of the one-child policy shows that less intrusive options, including those that emphasized delay and spacing of births, were known but not fully considered by China's political leaders.[135]

Unequal enforcement

Corrupted government officials and especially wealthy individuals have often been able to violate the policy in spite of fines.[136] Filmmaker Zhang Yimou had three children and was subsequently fined 7.48 million yuan ($1.2 million).[137] For example, between 2000 and 2005, as many as 1,968 officials in Hunan province were found to be violating the policy, according to the provincial family planning commission; also exposed by the commission were 21 national and local lawmakers, 24 political advisors, 112 entrepreneurs and 6 senior intellectuals.[136]

Some of the offending officials did not face penalties,[136] although the government did respond by raising fines and calling on local officials to "expose the celebrities and high-income people who violate the family planning policy and have more than one child".[136] Also, people who lived in the rural areas of China were allowed to have two children without punishment, although the family is required to wait a couple of years before having another child.[138]

Human rights violations

The one-child policy has been challenged for violating a human right to determine the size of one's own proper family. According to a 1968 proclamation of the International Conference on Human Rights, "Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children."[139][140]

According to the UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph, a quota of 20,000 abortions and sterilizations was set for Huaiji County, Guangdong in one year due to reported disregard of the one-child policy. According to the article local officials were being pressured into purchasing portable ultrasound devices to identify abortion candidates in remote villages. The article also reported that women as far along as 8.5 months pregnant were forced to abort, usually by an injection of saline solution.[141] A 1993 book by social scientist and anti-abortion political activist Steven W. Mosher reported that women in their ninth month of pregnancy, or already in labour, were having their children killed whilst in the birth canal or immediately after birth.[142]

According to a 2005 news report by Australian Broadcasting Corporation correspondent John Taylor, China outlawed the use of physical force to make a woman submit to an abortion or sterilization in 2002 but ineffectively enforces the measure.[143] In 2012, Feng Jianmei, a villager from Shaanxi province was forced into an abortion by local officials after her family refused to pay the fine for having a second child. Chinese authorities have since apologized and two officials were fired, while five others were sanctioned.[144]

In the past, China promoted eugenics as part of its population planning policies, but the government has backed away from such policies, as evidenced by China's ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which compels the nation to significantly reform its genetic testing laws.[145] Recent[when?] research has also emphasized the necessity of understanding a myriad of complex social relations that affect the meaning of informed consent in China.[146] Furthermore, in 2003, China revised its marriage registration regulations and couples no longer have to submit to a premarital physical or genetic examination before being granted a marriage license.[147]

The United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) support for family planning in China, which has been associated with the One-Child policy in the United States, led the US Congress to pull out of the UNFPA during the Reagan administration,[148] and again under George W. Bush's presidency, citing human rights abuses[149] and stating that the right to "found a family" was protected under the Preamble in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[150] Barack Obama resumed U.S. government financial support for the UNFPA shortly after taking office in 2009, intending to "work collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries".[151][152]

Other scholars have pointed out the importance of acknowledging the human right to a healthy natural environment and the importance of population control to prevent an overtaxing of the earth's capacity to sustain human population.[153]

Effect on infanticide rates

Sex-selected abortion, abandonment, and infanticide are illegal in China. Nevertheless, the US Department of State,[154] the Parliament of the United Kingdom,[155] and the human rights organization Amnesty International[156] have all declared that infanticide still exists.[157][158][159] A writer for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs wrote, "The 'one-child' policy has also led to what Amartya Sen first called 'Missing Women', or the 100 million girls 'missing' from the populations of China (and other developing countries) as a result of female infanticide, abandonment, and neglect".[160]

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation offered the following summary as to the long term effects of sex-selective abortion and abandonment of female infants:

Multiple research studies have also found that sex-selective abortion – where a woman undergoes an ultrasound to determine the sex of her baby, and then aborts it if it's a girl – was widespread for years, particularly for second or subsequent children. Millions of female fetuses have been aborted since the 1970s. China outlawed sex selective abortions in 2005, but the law is tough to enforce because of the difficulty of proving why a couple decided to have an abortion. The abandonment, and killing, of baby girls has also been reported, though recent research studies say it has become rare, in part due to strict criminal prohibitions.[30]

Anthropologist G. William Skinner at the University of California, Davis and Chinese researcher Yuan Jianhua have claimed that infanticide was fairly common in China before the 1990s.[161]

In popular culture

See also



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