By Maddy Burt
On 31st May, the Chinese government announced a shift in policy, allowing families to have up to three children, following the revelation in May’s census that the fertility rate had fallen to 1.3 children per woman. This rate is even lower than the fertility rate in Japan, which is facing a rapidly ageing population, and the lowest seen in China since a severe famine in the 1960s.
Coming soon after the decision to expand the 1979 one-child policy to two children in 2015, the CCP is struggling both with the ageing population and the need to alter its own narrative after decades of proclaiming the benefits of having only one child.
The decision from the Government to not entirely scrap the controls over reproduction, which both domestic experts and the People’s Bank of China have called for, is telling of its reluctance to admit the flaws present in the one-child policy. In addition to this, local family planning officials remain in place across the country.
For many families in China, the prospect of having more than one child, let alone three, is not appealing when faced with China’s two-child policy expands challenges of expenses in rent, childcare and education. Women continue to face discrimination in the workplace over having children, with employers keen to avoid paying maternity leave, or quick to pressure women against having children.
This may not be the way for the government to solve the perceived problem
Further, the long-professed discourse that having one child is the best way for families to focus their attention has remained convincing.
In a poll conducted by the Chinese media outlet Xinhua, only five per cent of people would consider having three children, and the majority ruled the prospect as ‘out of the question’. The poll was quickly removed followed the negative reception to the policy.
The fact that the fertility rate has dropped despite the introduction of the two-child policy suggests that this may not be the way for the government to solve the perceived problem of an ageing population – or it must be accompanied by measures to support the family and children.
Following the introduction of the one-child policy in 1979 came years of trauma as women’s bodies were, at times violently, controlled by the state.
Women who had more than one baby but couldn’t afford the fine often faced little choice but to seek an abortion, even if they longed for the child. At the time officials forced women who could not pay the fine into having an abortion very late into the pregnancy. Following this, forced sterilisation frequently occurred.
Female infanticide was common as families prioritised having a boy over having a girl. Other families faced the challenge of hiding additional children from state officials. The human impact of the policy, and loss due to the policy, cannot be underestimated or neglected amongst the decision to expand the number of children a family can have.
The human impact of the policy cannot be underestimated
Whilst it appears that the majority of families will decide against having more children despite the relaxation of rules, for some families it will offer a radical life change – the possibility of an additional child and sibling for those who wish for bigger families. Amnesty declared that the policy move to allowing three children per family remains a violation of human rights as the state continues to hold a grasp (kafka4prez, Wikimedia Commons) over reproductive rights.
The dangers of restricting families in the making of such a personal and intimate decision remain, as does the problem of how best to support the ageing population.
Image by kafka4prez via Wikimedia Commons