CHINA: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
How 'one child' policy threatens China's future
, November 13, 2010
China's draconian one-child family policy, under which women who have more than one child are routinely forced to abort any subsequent pregnancies, has caused horrific human rights abuses, a massive gender imbalance with tens of millions more men than women, and a thriving sex trade in women.
But its long-term impact could be to wreck China's long-term growth prospects, as its population ages.
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 severely punished.
Thanks to a wide organisational network that relies on the controlling powers of the state, 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), sterilisations of women and men, and 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 babies being suffocated or drowned because they are surplus to the government's quota; of parents tortured because they are unable to pay the fine; and the abduction of women to force them to undergo sterilisation.
Chai Ling, a survivor of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement, now a refugee in the United States, has described the one-child policy as a daily "Tiananmen massacre".
Another consequence of the law is that the preference for male children often leads parents to practise selective abortion of female foetuses. The World Health Organisation has calculated that, in the 1980s, at least 20 million females disappeared from China, reversing the proportion of males to females, with the result that a new business has been born: the trade in child-brides, and the abduction and selling of young girls and women, etc.
One bizarre consequence of the policy is that a black market has emerged for male babies, to be sold to desperate couples without a male child. The tip of the iceberg was a recent case in which two men were sentenced death for having headed a well-organised network which kidnapped 46 male babies, and sold them to desperate couples in other parts of China.
There is even a trade in women from North Korea and other countries bordering China, who are kidnapped or tricked into going to China to sate the sexual desires and dreams of marriage of local men.
According to official estimates, the infamous 1979 law has cut China's population by 400 million people. The current population is estimated at 1.4 billion.
However, consequences now beginning to appear could pose a major threat to the future prosperity of the Asian superpower.
After 30 years of rapid economic growth, based on an almost unlimited supply of cheap labour from the countryside, China is now beginning to face labour shortages, as there are just not enough people entering the workforce to support current economic growth.
Equally importantly, China's population is now greying, which means there will be many more elderly retired people, and not enough young people to support them.
According to China's Minister for Labour and Social Security, by 2030 23 per cent of the population will be over 60. That means over 350 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 three workers for one pensioner; in 20 years, it will be two to one.
Traditionally, elderly parents live with their children. But with both parents in the workforce until retirement age, many children cannot care for their elderly relatives, transferring the burden to the state. In any case, the apartment-style housing in China makes it difficult to have three generations living under one roof.
Between 1970 and 1979, when the one-child policy was formally imposed, there had been a voluntary program to limit family size which, according to government figures, had reduced the average number of births per couple from 5.9 to 2.9.
While the Beijing regime repeatedly claims that its social engineering has been a success, the facts show that neighbouring countries, with comparable development profiles, have had a similar decline in their birth-rates without such draconian state intervention.
In parts of China today, young people are becoming scarce and factories are struggling to find workers. This is felt especially in the "golden belt" of Guangdong Province (the most industrialised) and in rich Shanghai. Precisely for this reason the political leaders of Guangzhou and Shanghai are seeking to relax the law to allow couples to have at least two children.
As recently as September, however, Beijing has been adamant: there will be no change to its culture of death.