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After decades, China rolls out three-child policy – Here’s why5 min read

June 13, 2021 4 min read


After decades, China rolls out three-child policy – Here’s why5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In 1980, China adopted a one-child policy, which meant that every couple could have only one child. This policy was in place till 2016, when the government, due to various reasons that we will explore in the article, decided to allow couples to have two children. Now, this limit has been pushed up to three children per couple.

Credit: Shutterstock

Though it may seem odd that the government can control the number of children people can have, there were several reasons to back this move. Let’s take a look:

The history

A 1986 poster highlights China’s one-child policy. Credit: Flickr

China introduced a one-child policy in 1979. Back then, China’s population was huge, and was thought to be the biggest hindrance to the country’s economic growth. This basically means that China could not support the sheer number of people living there. So, the policy was introduced very strictly, and going against it meant fines, loss of jobs, homelessness and forced medical procedures to control births.

The population control strategy seemed to work well for China initially, and over the next 20 years, the country turned into a global economic hub.

What happened if a mother had twins?

The one-child policy was generally accepted to mean one birth per family, meaning if women gave birth to two or more children at the same time, they would not be penalised.

By 2000, the trouble started. China realised that it was heading towards a situation where its workforce (young, healthy people) would reduce considerably, while the population of senior citizens would increase. This is not ideal for a country that relies so much on manufacturing and factories.

That same year, China allowed couples to have a second child, if both were the only children of their respective parents. In 2013, couples were allowed to have a second child if the first child was a single child of their parent. Unfortunately, both methods did not solve China’s problems.

Credit: Giphy

In 2015, China completely scrapped its one-child policy. All couples were allowed to have a second child. Then, in 2016, China recorded the fastest birth rate since 2001 with 12.95 births per 1,000 people. In 2016, 1.78 crore babies were born in China. But in 2017, the number of births dropped to 1.72 crore, then declining further to 1.52 crore in 2018, 1.46 crore in 2019 and little over 1 crore in 2020 — a drop of over 31 per cent compared to 2019.

Now, there are 26.4 crore people above the age of 60 in China – nearly 19 per cent people are elderly of its 1.41 billion-population. Studies suggest that by 2025, one in every five people in China will be above 60 years.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

The United Nations expects China’s population to begin declining after 2030, but some experts say this could happen as early as in the next one or two years. By 2025, the country is set to lose its ‘most populous’ tag to India.

Why the three-child rule now?

Population planning is integral to a nation’s economy. However advanced a country may be in terms of development, the lack of people for labour and to produce material growth, can be dangerous to a nation. 

Hence, there are a number of reasons why China has introduced the three-child rule. These include the growing elderly population, fewer number of women who can bear children, and shrinking working population base. These factors increase the burden on the government in terms of giving pensions to the elderly, healthcare and social security services.

Criticism to the three-child policy

Experts say that this policy itself can’t lead to the changes the country is expecting, such as the increase in the birth rate. The main factors behind fewer children being born, they say, are rising costs of living, education and supporting ageing parents. There has also been a shift in mindset during the last few years, and now, many couples believe that one child is enough, and some expressing no interest in having children at all!

China’s ageing population is a growing concern. Credit: World Economic Forum

Human rights violations, like in earlier decades, is also an issue being highlight. The organisation Amnesty International said the policy was still a violation of reproductive rights.

Governments have no business regulating how many children people have. Rather than ‘optimising’ its birth policy, China should instead respect people’s life choices and end any invasive and punitive controls over people’s family planning decisions.

Joshua Rosenzweig, Amnesty China team head

The one-child impact

Credit: Giphy

The one-child limit was a source of unhappiness to the Chinese people, as the state used brutal tactics to implement it. The policy was also controversial for violating human rights, and for being unfair to poorer Chinese people or minorities, since the richer ones could afford to pay fines if they violated the policy. The policy also led to what is known as ‘female infanticide‘ because of a centuries-old preference for boys over girls.

Experts have also blamed the policy for making China’s population age faster than other countries, which will have an impact for years to come.

Sources: Indian Express, Al Jazeera, Money Control, South China Morning Post