China Ratchets Up One-Child Policy; Ignores Calls from Population Experts

chinaabortionRecent reports from the Guangdong province show coercion in China’s infamous one-child policy is once again on the rise. Women in the southern city of Huizhou, which has a population of 4 million, are being targeted for sterilization. Those who have one child are being forced to wear IUDs. Those who have two children are subject to tubal ligation. Those who bear an “illegal” child are being denied all government services. This means life without access to schools, hospitals, retirement benefits, etc.

Despite increased calls from the international community to rescind the policy, new notices have popped up all over the city of Huizhou by the so-called Centralized Services for Population and Family Planning: “A decision has been made after some research that a focused family planning service campaign shall be conducted in the community under our jurisdiction. This implementation plan is therefore formulated for the purpose.”

Faces of the Policy

The “one-child policy” has been in effect for 33 years, and most persons outside of China have heard repeated stories of the horrific human rights abuses which accompany the policy.

It is easy to grow emotionally complacent after more than three decades of horror stories, but these horrors will now be visited anew on the city of Huizhou: the new notices spell fear and sadness for the women of Huizhou.

The women in this city of 4 million people now face stricter child-bearing limitations imposed by Communist Party members who have the power to prevent employment, health care, housing and movement. One family planning official recounted her days in the Chinese hospitals:

A few, when I asked if they consented to the operation, burst into bitter laughter. “Why ask me?” one scoffed. “I don’t have any choice.” The population control workers in my unit have been after me for months. ‘Fanxing, fanxing!’ they ordered me. ‘Reflect on your mistake!’ Only if I undergo ‘remedial measures’ [abortion] will they stop pressuring me and my husband.[1]

Another mother was hounded by family planning officials, and she tells the story of her and her husband’s attempt to evade the policy:

“What can we do?” he responded, sounding defeated. “If the authorities are going to make an issue of this, what choice do we have but to go along? How can an egg break a rock?”

My eyes began to fill with tears. The outcome of my pregnancy was now a foregone conclusion. In a few hours my baby would be taken from me. Wei Xin put his arm around me and held me close.[2]

Such is the reality of the new “focused family planning service campaign” which descended on Huizhou last month.

Fertility and Development in the Guangdong Province

According to recent reports, the new push for population control in Huizhou originates from the city’s “poor performance” in meeting prior quotas for births. Indeed, the women in the province of Guangdong have had a slightly higher fertility than the rest of China since the institution of the one-child policy in 1979.[3] In the context of China, of course, a “high birth rate” does not mean large families. Guangdong province has had below replacement rate fertility–less than 2.1 children per woman–for over a decade.[4]

The province has also been slowly but surely approached the same fertility trends of the rest of the nation. As the province developed, industrialized, and urbanized, the birth rate fell. The cities in the Pearl River Delta (including the city of Huizhou)  have had lower fertility rates than the rest of the China for decades.[5]

If China put half the energy into developing its economy as it does into population control, it would prosper, and birth rates would take care of themselves. A paper produced by the National Bureau of Statistics of China found that, “at least half of the change in the Total Fertility Rate [in the province of Guangdong] is accounted for by economic and social development, and less than half to marriage and fertility policy.[6]”

After the change of regimes in the late 1970’s the Guangdong province was the first to reform away from the commune system of labor. As a result, the area experienced faster economic growth than any other province. The average person in the Pearl River Delta earns 24,000 yuan per year, while the national average is only 14,000 yuan per year.[7]

Another recent article published by professors at the School of Management and the Institute for Population and Development Studies at  Xi’an Jiaotong University wrote, “Given the negative effect of urbanization on the Total Fertility Rate, it is possible to relax the one-child policy without having adverse implications for population growth.[8]”

The policy which has torn families apart and forcibly aborted over 300 infants has always been morally reprehensible, but 33 years ago, Chinese officials attempted to make utilitarian policy arguments. After decades of the policy, and decades of research, we can say that the utilitarian economic and demographic arguments do not hold either. China is digging its own demographic grave; it is time for the one-child policy to be revoked.


[1] Mosher, Steven W. A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy. New York: Park Press, 1993

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chen, Jiajian, et al. “Effects of population policy and economic reform on the trend in fertility in Guangdong province, China, 1975–2005.” Population Studies 64.1 (2010): 43-60.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Guo, Zhen, et al. “The Effect of Urbanization on China’s Fertility.” Population Research and Policy Review 31.3 (2012): 417-434

This article is courtesy of the Population Research Council.
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