China is the most populous nation on earth, with 1.4 billion people living here it means that 1 in 5 people on earth today is Chinese. India is the only other country to come close to supporting such a mass of humanity, and in the next decade it may well overtake China in this respect. However while India’s population is increasing at break neck speeds, China’s is stabilizing.
This is due to the one child policy. The policy originates in 1978 when the communist leadership of China realized that the population growth rate was ultimately unsustainable. So they implemented what is actually (from a literal translation) a “policy of birth planning”.
Contrary to popular belief the policy does not apply to everyone in China, it applies specifically to Chinese people in urban areas. Back when this began, that meant it covered around 37% of the population, though given the massive urban migration since (over 200 million people here have given up the farm and headed for the city in the last 30 years – that’s over 3 times the population of the UK now living in apartments rather than cottages) it now applies to roughly 50%.
The one child policy restricts those families covered by it to having only one child. Those families which have more than one child face strict penalties and their children face difficult lives particularly in poorer families who may not be able to afford to pay fines to escape punishment. In the year 2000 the Chinese government claimed that this policy had prevented 2-300 million births since its implementation.
The idea was that this policy was strictly to cover a single generation of Chinese people in order for the country’s economic growth to catch up with the population, however the Chinese government indicated in 2008 that it will last at least until 2018 and possibly beyond.
On paper it’s a good idea, China is the only developing nation in the world to have taken responsibility for the fact that it cannot support ever increasing numbers of people with relatively limited resources on hand. Much of the modern day Western environmentalist lobby supports a similar policy at a global level in order to ensure a sustainable future for everyone.
In practice it has had many unforeseen consequences and the policy has come under strong criticism both from within China and from the outside too. In a culture where boys are revered, one child has led to the termination and infanticide of girls leaving the country with a massive gender imbalance. Only children have become overly-spoiled in the case of boys, and mentally abused in the case of girls and both of these have led to a population suffering with dramatic personality disorders. It is estimated that 80% or more of girls from these families suffer from narcissistic disorders for example.
Then there are the human horror stories, forced abortions including abortions during birth. Children who are denied “hukou” (a Chinese residency permit required to be registered for local services in a city, and later to get a job) leaving them without education and healthcare and with little or no prospect for the future.
Economic consequences are there too, with the rate of saving in Chinese families mirroring the proportions of families with only one child. In essence because a child is your safety net in China, and hopefully will support you in your later years – if you only have one, you need to save and save in case anything goes wrong and they cannot help. This means that money coming into China stays in banks, rather than becoming economically active to help spur a healthy internal economy.
There are many other impacts of the one child policy, which I will examine in later parts of this (and almost certainly other) series. It’s a subject I find hard to make a judgment call on, while I agree with the aim of the policy (and it has succeeded the birth rate per family in 2011 is 1.54 children per family, down from 3 children per family when it was introduced) and believe that population control is a laudable objective. It is hard to put the loftier goal in perspective in the face of the very real human cost.