05/25/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Growing unrest shows one-child policy in tatters

Broader sections of Chinese society are against the policy. Population controls are generating their own problems such as labour shortages, aging population, and a mounting welfare burden. Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholars say changes are needed.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Recent unrest in Guangxi is a sign that China’s population is less and less willing to put up with the one-child policy so much so that is ready to take to the streets. Many voices in the country’s scholarly community are also calling for a policy overhaul for the sake of society but also the economy.

Riots broke out in several towns in Bobai County last weekend when thousands of people stormed a local government office, smashing furniture and destroying vehicles. Some even tried to set the building alight. All of them are fed up with government officials and police trying to enforce the one-child policy, reportedly using violence in some cases.

Many families were hit with arbitrary fines for violating the policy. Those who could not pay had their homes ransacked by officers. The residents also accused the authorities of forcing women to have abortions in order to fulfil the annual newly-born quotas the central government has set for each city. Last April 61 women were forced to have an abortion in Youjiang County (Guangxi), two in the ninth month of pregnancy.

Such is the situation that the government has been forced to station police units to protect the hospital where abortions were performed.

Last September legal scholar Teng Biao and blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng slammed the authorities in Linyi (Shandong) for using violence against families with “illegal” children.

In Gaoping (Hunan) in the last four years, officials took away 12 children from their families in order to get them to pay the fine because they failed to respect quotas.

Also in Hunan province, the authorities forced unmarried women to under go “pregnancy checks” making the test compulsory for any woman seeking a share of community land-sale revenues and voting rights.

The one-child policy is likely to fuel further social unrest as human rights activists have pointed out. Increasingly people are unwilling to accept the unfairness of a system that allows rich people—for example, actors, landowners and business men—to have more than one child because they can afford the fine whilst others cannot. The one-child policy is thus feeding into the debate over the growing gap between rich and poor and the rising corruption scandal among rank and  file party officials, too ready to turn a blind eye on extra children in order to collect taxes and money.

Officials at the State Family Planning Office are the first to be aware of the danger of unrest since they are caught between the government’s demands and threats against their job and the increasingly dissatisfied and belligerent population.

China’s one-child policy came into being in the late 1970s as part of a strategy to put the country on a path of economic growth. However, it runs against the grain of Chinese mentality, which considers generational ties and ancestor worship the bases of the family unit.

Ye Tingfang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said that only about 35 per cent of the population has observed the policy, and that it is increasingly criticised because of its many social and economic side effects like an ageing population and gender imbalance.

Another CASS member, Prof Zhang Yi from the Institute of Population and Labour Economics, said that the country is ageing faster than expected and that the situation will worsen as the number of retired workers grows and the pool of people paying into pension funds shrinks.

As fewer rural workers stream into the cities, labour shortages are starting to appear in booming coastal regions. “In the beginning, it was believed that our big population would be a hindrance to our economic development. But over the past decades, experience has told us otherwise,” said Professor Ye. “Japan, for instance, has little in the way of resources and boasts one of the highest population densities in the world, but it is a thriving economy and one of the richest nations. Labour is the most important source of wealth.”

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