China’s child policy and the right to reproduce


Ben Zentner, Columnist


The government of China has recently announced that they will end their one-child policy. This odd and imposing rule attempted to limit the population growth of China by restricting the number of children urban couples could raise to one.

“The reason China is doing this right now is because they have too many men, too many old people and too few young people,” says Mei Fong, a Wall Street Journal reporter. In fact according to BBC News, about 30 percent of China’s population is over the age of 50.

A statement from China’s Community Party says that the decision to allow families to have two children was designed “to improve the balanced development of population.”

This was the original intent of the one-child policy as well. And yet China, even with this family size-limiting rule in place for three decades, has the world’s largest population for a single country: 1.36 billion people.

With a population like China’s, resources quickly become overextended. The quick fix to this need for resources is to limit the source of the demand by reducing the amount of people. Overpopulation is a major issue not only for China but for our entire world, and China’s one-child policy was a practical solution… in theory.

In reality, the policy led to further demographic issues in China. Most notable was the dwindling number of girls born, as parents preferred their only child be male for sociological reasons, such as inheritance, family lineage or financial support in old age.

The result is that many women either had abortions upon discovering they were pregnant with a girl or were forced to give their baby girls up for adoption after birth. The government effectively decided the fate of girls not yet born, forcing their mothers into making painful sacrifices against their will.

I agree that overpopulation needs to be addressed. But placing government-enforced limits on how many children a woman can have is a vast overreach of federal power. And although we may like to believe that this family-level oppression is over, China’s one-child policy has simply been replaced with a two-child policy, no different in its controlling nature.

For those women who want more than two children, the new policy will not end the state’s insistence on the right to control their fertility, BBC’s John Sudworth reports. There is still a limit on how many children a family can have. And that’s the root of the issue.

Ignoring for a moment the further implications (the demographic problems that result), the very idea of limiting, by coercion, the amount of children a family can have is appalling to me. The ability to have children is not only a basic, self-evident right but one of the most primal of goals for human beings, or any animal for that matter.

The restriction of the number of children a woman can have seems to be something out of a dystopian novel, where the government controls every aspect of our lives, to the very act of reproduction. Any law that can singlehandedly prevent an estimated 400 million births is obviously imposing an abnormal stipulation on human nature.

In this way, “as long as the quotas and system of surveillance remains, women still do not enjoy reproductive rights,” says Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch. Regardless of how many children a woman will actually have, the importance of this issue is instead the violation of the basic right to reproduce.

The mere presence of such a limit, be it one child or two, allows the hand of big government into one of the most private aspects of a citizen’s life. Logistics have proven that this type of control isn’t the answer for overpopulation, so the policies are simply doing astonishing harm for no justified reason to: the demographics of China, unborn baby girls and the rights of all women in China.

Then again, is there such a thing as a justified intentional culling of human population? Overpopulation might be a harder fish to fry if we allow ourselves to think about the moral implications of logical policy actions.

But what does that say about what we’ve become, if we allow ourselves to get to that point? Are we already thinking as the world’s population as simply a number to be reduced or controlled, no matter the moral issues that presents? The government that presides over more people than any other seems to think so.