China’s “one-child” family planning regime has seen arbitrary and often brutal enforcement
BEIJING: Chinese citizens greeted the announcement of a “two-child” policy warily on Friday, as high costs, career aspirations and rising urbanisation in an increasingly wealthy society mute expectations of a baby boom after the historic change.
China’s “one-child” family planning regime, which Beijing announced on Thursday would end after some four decades, has seen arbitrary and often brutal enforcement, including forced abortions and sterilisations.
China lifts one-child policy
Most families were restricted to only one offspring, but various exemptions applied, and violators who could afford to pay the fines were able to have a second child, or even more.
The plan was supposed to save China from a looming population explosion, but now it contributes to a greying of society that will exacerbate labour shortages as the world’s second-largest economy fights to maintain growth.
The policy is thought to have prevented an estimated 400 million births in the world’s most populous country, where 1.37 billion people live today.
Chinese media Friday portrayed the decision to loosen the policy as a victory for both the economy and the people, who have long expressed anger at the controversial policy and its myriad abuses.
“The new Five-year Plan should be regarded as a triumph of the people’s will, as many policies have echoed long-term appeals,” the Global Times, a paper close to the government, wrote following the announcement.
But the change may have been too little, too late, as many young Chinese, who grew up as single children, see more costs than benefits in having a second child.
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A previous rule change in 2013 allowed couples to have a second baby if just one of them was a single child, rather than both.
But the change met a “lukewarm response,” said Joan Kaufman, director of the Columbia Global Centres East Asia and a long-time expert on China’s population planning.
At the time, the government “expected a big surge in births, people registering and having a second child, but they didn’t get that,” she said.
Social media users also met Thursday’s announcement with a collective shrug. The topic was in eighth place among trending topics on popular micro-blog site Sina Weibo — well behind entertainment news.
The site’s users were far more interested in reading about celebrity actress Angelababy, who held the number one spot, than making their own.
A Friday survey on Chinese media site Sina with over 160,000 respondents found that less than 29 percent would have a second child.
While once there may have been pent up demand for more children, experts say that as the country has grown wealthier, couples have increasingly delayed having even one child as they devote more time to other goals, such as building their careers.
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Social media users questioned whether one was truly the loneliest number and said that even if they wanted a child, they could not afford one.
“The country doesn’t give any financial support,” said one post among many that lamented the costs of having two children. “Apartments are so expensive, now. Who can afford to give birth?”
Extra children have always been an option for the wealthy, who can afford to pay the large fines associated with breaking the law.
Renowned director Zhang Yimou paid a $1.2 million fine for having three extra children. Making more children clearly isn’t the solution to China’s economic problems, another comment said, adding that instead “maybe we should be working hard to make more money”.