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In 1979, worried that China's population would soon "spiral out of control," the Chinese Communist Party instituted the infamous "one-child" policy, which prohibited couples from having more than one child. The law was immediately controversial, with women reporting that they faced "forced abortions, heavy fines, and eviction from homes if they attempted to have a second baby." Though the policy managed to curb China's rapid population inflation, it had long-lasting and unforeseen consequences.


Fewer young people may have meant fewer mouths to feed in 1979, but it also meant fewer middle-aged workers to support their aging relatives in 2018. China's residents now skew much older—according to CNN, the "population aged over 65 has risen from about 4% to almost 10%."

Seeing trouble on the horizon, the Chinese government softened the one-child regulation in October 2015, transitioning to a slightly less harsh "two-child" policy. Around that same time, the ruling Communist Party began encouraging families to have more children, framing it as a national issue. Unfortunately, the country's birth rate did not spike as expected.

CNN reports:

In 2017, the country's total fertility rate was 1.6 children per woman, well below the 2.1 rate estimated to be necessary to keep the population steady.

According to Human Rights Watch senior researcher Maya Wang:

Relaxing the One Child policy actually didn't lead to an immediate jump in births, which the government was kind of predicting and counting on...So now the Chinese government has come around to the opinion as well they need to further relax their control and abolish the birth controls altogether.

Now it appears as if the child-limitation policies may be removed altogether. According to a Tuesday, August 28, statement from the National People's Congress, the country's civil code, which is currently being revised, "will no longer retain the relevant content of family planning."

The changes likely won't take effect until the civil code is completed in 2020, but Therese Hesketh, professor at the University College London's Institute for Global Health, is optimistic:

The government will lift the policy, to what degree they then go further with pre-natal policy is another issue, but I think they'll lift the policy in the foreseeable future.

In fact, faced with the crisis of rapidly aging population, some activists like Reggie Littlejohn, founder of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, are concerned China may go too far in other direction and begin requiring couples to have children:

I could see a move by the Chinese government to pressure all couples who are eligible to have a second child into having a second child, whether they want a second child or not.

Other health experts believe China would be reluctant to injure its international standing by dipping its toe into child mandates a second time. Hesketh thinks China will attempt to encourage additional children using more conventional methods:

It is possible they may (introduce) gentle, pro-natal policies like we have in most countries around the world ... like proper paid maternity leave for longer and cheap or free kindergartens.

The one-child mandate was considered for many years to be one of China's most controversial and inhumane laws. Though many thought it was unjust all on its own, it also had many negative consequences the government did not plan for. Under the law, the number of illegal abortions and infanticides skyrocketed. Also, Chinese couples would often prefer male children (an unfortunate consequence of sexism), which resulted in parents aborting or giving away female babies. China now has 1.15 as many males as it does females, one of the largest gender discrepancies in the world.

With the civil code being updated, China's birthrates may be able to find a natural balance.

H/T - CNN, The Guardian

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