The one-child policy in China was introduced in 1979 as an attempt to control the country's population, with each family limited to having just one child. In some districts couples were allowed to have a second child if their first-born was a girl. Authorities claim that the one-child policy prevented 400 million births from 1979 to 2011.
By the end of 2010, China's population was estimated at 1.3 billion. China's population was growing out of control in the 1950s and 1960s after the founding father of the People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong (1893-1976), gave instruction to the nation to have as many children as possible. The baby boom that followed resulted in 5.8 children per couple, a level unsustainable by China's natural resources of food, water and energy.
Ethnic minorities were exempt from parts of the one-child policy, which applied mainly to the Han ethnic majority that constitutes more than 90 percent of all Chinese.
Those who break the one-child rule are fined. The fines are calculated as a multiple of salary in the year of the child's birth, or as a proportion of the collective income of the community in peasant areas. If the fine is not paid, the couple lose their land, their house is destroyed, they lose their jobs or the child is not allowed to attend school.
Family planning associations in China promote the one-child policy and offer various social welfare benefits, including training and income generating loans for rural women, as well as basic maternal and child health screening and care.
Parents who have only one child get a one-child glory certificate, which entitles them to economic benefits such as an extra month's salary every year until the child is 14. Couples that have one child tend to have higher salaries, receive interest-free loans, retirement funds, better housing and healthcare, as well as priority in school enrollment.
China's National Population and Family Planning Commission is in charge of the one-child policy and monitors the childbearing habits of the Chinese masses. It is comprised of 300,000 full-time paid family-planning workers and 80 million volunteers.
Couples in China must get a permit before they conceive a child. Some couples are given rigorous medical tests before they are allowed to marry, and it is claimed that people suffering from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and disabilities including dyslexia are banned from marriage. To be eligible, a couple must have a marriage certificate and have their residency permits in order. Women must be at least 20 and men 24.
Initially the policy was a temporary measure. However, it has been renewed every five years, and has begun to meet resistance. In 2007, riots broke out in the Guangxi Province because government officials there reportedly were forcing pregnant women to undergo abortions if they were having an "illegal" child. There have also been allegations of women being forcibly sterilized in order to keep the population stable.
One of the main criticisms of China's one-child policy is the manner in which it discriminates against girls. In rural China, boys are more valued than girls. Forced by the restrictions, many couples choose to abort baby girls or abandon them in orphanages. Another negative effect is that China has one of the world's highest rates of suicide of women in the reproductive years.
In 2011 international and Chinese media reported that China's government was rethinking the one-child policy and is considering adopting a two-child policy, particularly in the large cities, in an effort to alter the balance of a rapidly aging workforce. However, psychologists say that on the mainland, especially in large cities, it may be too late to convince young people to have more than one child. Research of Professor Wang Feng of the University of California, Irvine showed that Chinese citizens have accepted the one-child limit and are happy with it. Another study, by the Beijing Institute, found that 52 percent of young people want only one child and 25 percent of them want no children at all.