China Considers Scrapping Its One-Child Policy

Manila Bulletin, March 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

China Considers Scrapping Its One-Child Policy


Byline: Tania Branigan The Guardian News Services

For three decades, it has been the subject of intense debate and rancour, preventing as many as 400 million births - mostly of baby girls.

But China is now considering axing its one-child policy, a senior family planning official said Thursday, amid concerns about the gender imbalance and the ageing population

Dr. Zhao Baige, at the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) said detailed studies into the environmental, social and other implications of changing the laws had begun.

Asked if there were plans to scrap the one-child policy, she said: "I cannot answer at what time or how (we will decide), but this has really become a big issue among decision makers. We want to have a transition from control to a slow down (relaxation), incrementally.

The attitude is to do the studies, to consider it responsibly."

The controversial rules, which restrict most urban families to a single child but allow many rural couples to have two, were introduced to stop the world's largest national population from soaring out of control and outstripping resources.

But the policy has become divisive, owing to a complex set of exemptions, enforcement inconsistencies and financial penalties, which allow some people to have larger families than others. Several experts have called for a move to a uniform two-child policy.

The government says its current policies have resulted in 400m fewer births. It is worried that reform would result in a drastic increase in the population of 1.3bn.

"They see population control as essential to stable economic growth; they are really afraid of it taking off and many officials have said to me they can't just have a free-for-all," said Dr. Therese Hesketh, an expert on China's one-child policy at the Institute of Child Health at University College London.

"I suspect what they may do is move to a two-child policy across the board. It's been so divisive that some can have two and some can have one. It's not so bad in the cities, where the policy has been pretty strictly imposed, but at county-level (in the countryside) it can be so disparate."

Hesketh added that officials also feared the prospect of an ageing society in which one worker was left to support two parents and four grandparents. China's fledgling social security system means the vast majority of old people are dependent on their families.

At its peak in the 1960s, the fertility rate was 5.8 babies for each woman of childbearing age thanks to Mao Zedong's promotion of large families for the sake of the nation. It soon plummeted to 2.9 when his successors made contraceptives and abortion widely available.

The one-child policy quickly cut it further, to just 1.8 - well below the replacement rate of 2. …

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