China has finally decided to end its decades-long one-child policy in a statement made on Thursday, Oct. 29, allowing couples to have two children. The announcement was made by China’s Communist Party in rather sterile language: “Comprehensively implement a policy that couples can have two children, actively taking steps to counter the aging of the population.”
Thus, this significant step was made not in the interest of human rights, but rather as a solution to the economic hardships and population disparity that have resulted from the policy.
According to The New York Times, the groundwork for China’s one-child policy began in 1971, as a high rate of population growth prompted the Chinese government to issue a plan to address such concerns. Following China’s Cultural Revolution, a myriad of family-planning programs were established by local government offices. In 1978, China’s central government approved measures to control the high growth rate while couples were encouraged to only have one child. Finally, in 1982, birth control was cemented as the duty of all Chinese citizens with the support of a new constitution by the National People’s Congress.
What followed was nothing short of devastating. Law enforcement would often force mothers pregnant beyond their first child to abort the fetus. It would follow through with the practice even when the mother was as much as eight months into her pregnancy, as was the case of Pan Chuyan, who was actually taken from the store she owned in order to have an abortion. Hers was a common story throughout China, as the one-child policy spawned a number of horrors including forced sterilizations, the murder of infants and the sale of children on the black market. Of the children who were killed or sold, an overwhelming majority consisted of girls as Chinese couples sought to have boys as their only child.
This sudden reversal must ring hollow for the parents and children who have suffered through the horrors of the one-child policy. Furthermore, this change must also seem ingenuous as it is nothing more than “a proactive response to the issue of an aging population,” according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. At the very least, the Chinese government should publicly recognize the turmoil and immense pain its policies have caused over the years and cite such reasons as a cause for reversal.
This switch to a new law allowing two children per couple will not end the sterilizations, abortions and sale of children in black markets, nor will it ensure that girls will be equally sought after. Couples may still vie to have boys over girls and mothers will still be forced to have abortions if they have more than two children. These practices simply should not be allowed in the 21st century.
“The state has no business regulating how many children people have,” said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International. “If China is serious about respecting human rights, the government should immediately end such invasive and punitive controls over people’s decisions to plan families and have children.”
China’s decision to move to a two-child policy simply is not enough. It must end its control over the womb completely, while finding alternative solutions to mitigate the threat of overpopulation in the long run. When a nation turns to infanticide and the abandonment of children to maintain stability, what sort of message does this send throughout the world and to its own people?
While it may be true that desperate circumstances call for desperate measures, these actions are nothing short of deplorable. The United States already grants refugee status to families claiming persecution under the Chinese government’s draconian practices, but it, along with other nations, should take a more aggressive stance on condemning China’s policies while offering asylum to those in need.
China must show that it is concerned with the welfare of its citizens, even in the face of looming socioeconomic turmoil; for when a nation neglects the welfare of its people, it runs the risk of losing its very humanity.
Vinay Maliakal is associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.