12/05/2007, 00.00
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One-child policy threatening China’s growth

Official sources call for change. In a generation workforce will decline and the already inadequate retirement system will fall apart. In the meantime youth crime and divorce are up. Experts say policy is creating a generation of self-centred men and women.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s one-child policy is causing higher youth crime and divorce. Increasingly it is coming under attack even from official sources who are concerned that it might threaten the country’s economic future.

The China Daily recently reported that two-thirds of the four million criminal cases handled annually by courts involve minors. Altogether the number of juvenile delinquents rose from 33,000 in 1998 to 80,000 this year.

“Offenders’ average ages have become younger and they are committing new types of crime (like internet fraud) and forming larger gangs,” said Liu Guiming, deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Society of Juvenile Delinquency Research.

For him “the influence of broken families, the depletion of school education and incomplete social management” are responsible for the rise, pointing to the growing number of children left in the care of relatives or friends by parents working in other cities. China has a total of some 150 million migrant workers who have had to travel from poor rural regions to work in the country’s more affluent eastern cities.

The government’s child-bearing restrictions were also blamed for creating a generation of single children forced to cope alone with the burden of family expectations amidst wrenching social change.

Single children are unable to sustain normal social relations, even though they are treated as ‘emperors’ and ‘empresses’ by the families. Many have not been taught traditional Confucian respect for others based on the traditional Confucian ideal of a large and close-knit family. Even Marxist ideals have not been passed on.

The net result for many experts is that many of this generation are unable to sustain relationships. Spoilt only children, doted on by parents and grandparents who push the idea of marrying into "the right family,” they often put their needs before anything and anyone else.

“They are weak in horizontal bonding, communicating with the same generation,” said Fucius Yunlan, a US-trained psychiatrist who runs counselling sessions in Beijing, and “tend to apply a vertical approach to horizontal relationships.”

The problem of adult only children having difficulties sustaining relationships is particularly pronounced among the affluent middle- and upper-classes. With an enlarged sense of entitlement, some of these couples tend to part quickly. Counsellors say some marriages fall apart after a week or a few months.

Another consequence of China’s one-child policy has been the increasingly skewed gender imbalance. Currently, the sex ratio at birth is 123 baby boys for every 100 girls. Thus in a generation or less, China will have to deal with the problem of tens of millions of unmarriageable young men.

China launched the controversial one-child policy in the early 1980s to curb population growth and favour economic development. Increasingly though more and more people are calling for a review of what some have called a “slow-motion humanitarian tragedy” which “directly undermine[s] the country’s future development potential,” this according to US demographer Nicholas Eberstadt.

By 2030, China’s 65-plus cohort could more than double, topping 235 million, this, in country without a proper old-age security system.

Raised like little emperors the members of China's working-age population of 15-64 year olds will start to decline in 2015 and in a generation will likely be smaller than it is today

“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 Ye Tingfang, a professor of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“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.”

This has not been lost on some in China. Some 30 delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) called on the government to abolish the one-child rule, because “it creates social problems and personality disorders in young people.”

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