Tuesday, 17 November 2015

How Effective Will China's Two Child Policy Be?

by Zita Edwards

On 29th October, 2015, China announced its plans to ease its notorious One Child Policy and replace it with a new Two Child Policy following the success of its introduction to rural areas in 2010. However, many criticisms have arisen, questioning whether this reform has come too late, arguing that simply reducing the birth rate is not effective in solving the country's wider population issues and climate change.

The current world population stands at 7.3 billion and China's population accounts for 20% of that figure. In 1979, Communist Party leader Chairman Mao Zedong planned to reduce the Chinese population by imposing a One Child policy. The One Child policy has meant that all children born in the last 35 years have grown up without siblings.  This has created pressure on these children to do well in order to cater for the increased dependency ratio, as 30% of the population is now over the age of 50 and thus China's workforce is decreasing. Furthermore, the decrease in birth rate has caused half of all primary and secondary schools to close. The pressure on having one 'perfect' child has led to a rise in abandoned infants - new-born girls and babies born with disabilities. The ratio of boys to girls is now 1.16:1 and the infant deaths ratio 21:28, as abortions happen later and more frequently. The unbalanced gender ratio has created another major population crisis for China as it has become more expensive to adopt, leaving many girls in care.  Those couples determined to have more than one child have, in many cases, tried dangerous fertility medicines for twins or travelled abroad, causing an increase in so-called 'birth tourism'.

So how effective has the One Child Policy been?

China has claimed that 400 million births have been prevented due to the policy and $2 trillion revenue has been raised from fines, but how sure are we that the One Child Policy is the cause of slower population growth? When people were asked if they supported the policy, 76% agreed - evidence of the modern trend to have fewer children. However, records show the population falling before the policy was introduced and recent developments in healthcare and education have caused families to consider having children much later. Since women are having fewer children, they are able to stay in education longer and work longer, creating a more productive workforce in China despite the fall in population figures. The slowing rate of population growth has meant that China is able to allocate its resources better, reducing poverty.

Following these changes to Chinese lifestyle is there any demand for a second child? Will the new policy encourage couples to have another child or has this all come too late? The Two Child Policy is to come into effect in March 2016 with the aim to increase China's workforce and to correct some unintended consequences of the previous policy such as the dependency ratio and criticism over human rights. China has predicted that 3 million extra children will be born each year, adding 30 million people to the labour force by 2050. However, there will be a delay of about 15 years before we see any impact. The Two Child Policy will not be a quick easy fix; due to the One Child Policy there is a large number of 40-49 year olds who can no longer bear children. China hopes increased spending on a second child will also help their economy, however the issue regarding the dependency ratio still stands. With an increase in the number of infants, people of working age will be working harder than ever to provide for family members. With parents constantly working grandparents will need to take care of the children, leading to changes in the way children are brought up. Although there are many exciting advantages of an increase in birth rate, we may not even see as large an increase in the birth rate as expected as the demand for another child has fallen.

It seems quite popular with other countries that the optimum number of children is two. Singapore's 'Stop at Two' campaign in the 1980s saw the birth rate halve. G
overnments intervened by creating higher costs for the third child and lower priorities in school and work. Although this was before Singapore became a developed country, the lower birth rates have remained stable under 2 births per woman in recent years. In 2012 in the UK the Conservative Party promoted the idea that child benefit should be capped at two children. Currently those with higher incomes do not receive child benefits and pay additional taxes, evidence that the government is not encouraging increased births.

Will there be a Three Child policy? Four? Five...? Although it's all very
well putting a limit in place, most developed countries have a birth rate around two children per family already, meaning a Two Child policy is ineffective. If China had removed their One Child Policy rather than replacing it with a new policy maybe all the human rights arguments and population structure issues would regulate themselves.

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