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Why China's One Child Policy Is Actually a Brilliant Solution to Reduce Overpopulation

03/03/2014 11:59 GMT | Updated 30/04/2014 10:59 BST

"For a prosperous, powerful nation and a happy family, please practice family planning."

These red words, superimposed on a white board, are frequently seen on government signs hanging on the entrances to various Chinese towns in the country side. It's ambitious, and while some of the most privileged members of Chinese society may laugh it off and merely call it a quota, China's one-child policy is strict and if one does not respect it, may have to pay a hefty fine.

The one-child policy is self-explanatory; Chinese families in Mainland China (excludes Hong Kong and Macau) may only have one child. It sounds terrible, and something right out of a post-apocalyptic movie and infringes on a person's right to a child. It also steps on a person's freedom. In short, China's one-child policy is something that would make liberals frown in disapproval.

Yet, it's a brilliant solution to a problem that is becoming increasingly important: overpopulation.

The usual discussion on overpopulation follows that we are living on a planet that is, currently, still able to provide us with means of subsistence. The majority of people have access to food, and of course, some people do not. Logic would conclude that to provide food to a greater number of people, we should be careful with population growth. Obviously, that's not the case. In 2014, Earth's population is estimated to be at 7.2 billion, and global population is expected to keep growing. With food price volatility, more and more people are expected to lose their access to food. Sensitive regions, such as sub-saharan Africa have tried multiple methods to reduce reproduction -- the most notable one being contraception -- but, it hasn't worked out as well as a policy which considers the bearing of a second child worth a fine.

The one-child policy, all things considered, is actually the result of a very well thought out policy-making process. If there is no incentive to using contraception and if Chinese culture embraces family, then many children are bound to be born. If there is no incentive to not having children, then the Chinese solution has been to create one; a fine, which would severely discourage Chinese families from having a second child. The fine is not the only incentive, as local media has played a massive role in promoting the one-child policy, using words such as 'the nation's prosperity' or 'well-being' to convince fellow countrymen and women.

There is no doubt that this is a form of propaganda, to hide what values the one-child policy is stepping on, but the results are surprisingly convincing. China's current population is at 1.4 billion and the policy has managed to stop 200 million births between 1979 and 2009. The policy is essentially a very rational, perhaps economical solution to overpopulation -- it weighs the cost and benefit of having more children. Perhaps it is a cold, even cruel approach, but it has done wonders to solve overpopulation.

It's a solution, yes, but it's created side-effects in Chinese society.

Chinese society is patriarchal. Having a son is considered to be far more important than having a daughter. Like other patriarchal societies, being a man alone gives you a head start in regards to professional career. Factor in the one-child policy and things become far more gruesome. The heavy bias towards boys exponentially increases; families only have one 'chance' at having a boy. The result is that infanticides and abortions in China have become far more common, as couples either cannot or do not wish to pay the fine for a second child. Underreporting of female births also became a common phenomena; baby girls are being abandoned in alleyways, in dumpsters, in fields, as the policy was to be strictly followed. All of a sudden, next to the one-child policy signs, new signs read "it is forbidden to discriminate against, mistreat or abandon baby girls".

Over the years, the one-child policy has relaxed. In rural areas, families are allowed to apply for a second child if their first-born is a daughter. The same applies for children that are born with physical disability, mental illness or intellectual disability. Furthermore, Chinese families that are returning from overseas may have a second child. Second 'chances' are becoming more common and the administration in charge of family well-being is allowing more and more exceptions.

It is a brilliant solution to reduce overpopulation and its results shows its effectiveness, but no more. Simply put, the costs of this solution, outweigh the benefits that it would bring. It worked in the past, but even the Chinese government has acknowledged the problems it's created and thus, step-by-step the one-child policy is being loosened.