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China's One Child Policy Tragedy

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As the change in Chinese leadership is well underway; there is an interesting issue playing on people's mind: whether the one child policy will be lifted. Established in 1979, by the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping; the policy was intended to limit the population growth in Communist China. Whilst it was considered a 'temporary measure', it is still in existence over 30 years after its establishment. The policy, in general, limits couples in cities or urban areas, to one child; however, the rules are less stringent in rural areas, where couples may have two children if their first child is a girl. If the policy is not obeyed, couples must face serious implications enforced by the government, or women may even be forced to have an abortion.

China has the biggest population in the world, so one can understand why such a policy was enforced to curb this rapidly growing population. The rule has been estimated to have reduced population growth in the country of 1.3 billion by as much as 300 million people over its first twenty years. This has undoubtedly had some positive effects, including aiding the development process in China, as she opened her markets to the world.

Nevertheless, whilst China has enjoyed growth rates of up to 10% annually, and embraced the effects of globalisation; continuity of such a policy can harm the country's economic progress. China's economy will undoubtedly suffer from such a policy - if it is not already. For an emerging economy, second in the world - behind the USA - this would be devastating for China. A one-child policy will reduce the workforce, meaning fewer people are contributing to the government via tax. This is detrimental in a country where there is also an ageing population. Each child has two parents and four grandparents to support, and it is typical for most members of the family to live together. But how can one child support all of these family members? More importantly, how can the government support an ageing population if fewer workers are contributing to public services, such as health care?

Alongside these economic problems, there have also been many social repercussions. With a preference for a son, many Chinese women will go to 'back street' clinics to determine the sex of their child, despite this being illegal in China to prevent sex-selective abortions. However, with more of these clinics opening around China, women are taking advantage of them. An increase in abortions of female foetuses has caused a gender imbalance in China. Census data released by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that in 2011, China's gender ratio stood at 117.78 new-born boys for every 100 baby girls. This problem is worse in China's rural areas. In the Anhui Province, at Two Rivers Primary School, in a year one class, there are ten boys and only two girls. China may have the biggest population in the world, but with a declining birth rate, more babies simply need to be born. If this trend continues across China, who will all the boys marry?

It cannot be forgotten that such a policy also goes against one's human rights. A woman should be free to decide how many children she has and whether she is able to support them. But such a policy is only possible in a Communist country (or authoritarian), like China. Chinese people have limited freedom of speech and consequently do not have much impact on the government. A one child policy would cause absolute outcry in a democratic nation. To put things into perspective, when a two-child policy was proposed in India, there was a public outcry, and the Indian government thought it was playing it safe by allowing 'two' children. However, people are prepared to exercise their democratic rights if they can. It is therefore not surprising that India is the largest democracy in the world.

The incoming leadership cannot avoid discussion about this matter. By doing so, the future of China is at threat. However, they are reluctant to lift the policy in fear of another population explosion threatening the economic prosperity and development of China. This is of course is a valid concern given how there have been numerous famines in China. But whilst people are unhappy with the one child policy, most will settle for a two-child policy as a better and fairer alternative. The former policy was enforced in a context where China was still rather closed with her economy and development had not fully taken off. Today, however, living standards have increased and when this happens, the birth rate naturally declines. Brazil, a fellow emerging economy, has seen a decline in their population growth rate to 1.17% due to their rapid industrialisation. Consequently, China may not experience the population outburst it so fears.

But the new Chinese government may have to take a risk, because the implications of the one child policy are proving to be far more detrimental.