The "success" and failure of the one-child law
Rome (AsiaNews) – China’s one-child law is now marking its 30th anniversary. It was instituted at the same time as Deng Xiaoping’s four modernizations that have allowed the country to make giant leaps in economic development. According to Party leaders, control over the population is another of China’s "successes" and it is heralded as such at all international conferences.
The one-child law has indeed blocked the birth of 400 million children and has allowed a greater enrichment of families, a reduction of government expenditure on health and housing, to plan for a future with fewer unknown factors. Yet, increasingly, there are voices in China that define the one-child law a failure that is now showing its cracks.
The law prohibits couples from having more than one child (farming families or ethnic minorities may have two if the first is female) and those who violate the ban are punished with severe fines and discrimination in the workplace. Thanks to a wide organizational network that relies on the controlling powers of over 80 million employees, an annual quota for new births is set for each province, city and village. To meet the set quota officials from the Office for population control resort to forced abortions (even in the ninth month), sterilizations of women and men, huge fines of up to one or two years annual wages for those who have a second child. The history of contemporary China is full of terrible stories of newborn children suffocated because they fall outside the quota; of parents tortured because they are unable to pay the fine, the abduction of women to force them to undergo sterilization.
The Chinese government defends itself by saying that it now "persuades" citizens not to have more than one child, with economic incentives and that the law is no longer imposed by force. But news reports refute this. Only a month ago AsiaNews published the story of a 23 year-old woman, Li Hongmei, who was kidnapped and taken to hospital for a forced sterilization. Her crime was to have had a child outside the quotas. According to China Daily, almost every year in China - and this is a conservative estimate - at least 13 million abortions occur, all from contraception. Chai Ling, the heroine of Tiananmen Square, now a refugee in the U.S. who has become Christian, has defined the fruits of the one-child law as a daily "Tiananmen massacre".
Added to this is another evil consequence of the law: the preference for male children - especially for farmers - which often leads parents to practice selective abortion of female foetuses. The World Health Organisation has calculated that in the 1980’s at least 20 million women disappeared from China, reversing the proportion of males to females, with the result that a new business has been born: trade in child-brides, the abduction and selling of young girls and women etc.. There is even a trade in women from North Korea, who are marketed in China to sate the sexual desires and dreams of marriage of local men.
The fact that the one child law is a slow suicide of the population is now obvious to many: it has begun to undermine China’s economic growth. Firstly, because the population is aging rapidly. According to the Minister for Labour and Social Security, by 2030 23% of the population will be over 60. That means 351 million new pensioners, which will weigh heavily on state coffers. Consequently, the percentage of citizens depending on the remaining labour force will increase. Currently, the ratio is about 3 workers for one pensioner; in 20 years, it will be 2 to 1, in 1975 the ratio was 7.7 to 1.
But there are also problems for the workforce, which in a country of 1 billion 300 million people will start to run low. So far, China's development has been based on armies of young people from the countryside, ready to work for a few Euros a month. But now young people are scarce and factories are struggling to find workers. This is felt especially in the "golden belt" of Guangdong Province (the most industrialized) and in rich Shanghai. Precisely for this reason the deputies of Guangzhou and Shanghai continue to seek to change the law to allow couples to have at least two children.
Some, as of yet unconfirmed, rumours suggest the government wants to launch a pilot project in five provinces of removing the law to study the effects. So far, however, Beijing has always responded to the claims of scientists and demographers by extolling the success of having denied life to 400 million people.