A couple of times this year we have reported that the Chinese Government might be on the verge of relaxing its one child policy (see here and here). Well those reports have proved to be accurate, as Stuff reports, China hasdropped its one child policy and replaced it with a two-child policy:

“China will ease family planning restrictions to allow all couples to have two children after decades of the strict one-child policy, the ruling Communist Party said on Thursday (Friday NZ Time), a move aimed at alleviating demographic strains on the economy.

The policy is a major liberalisation of the country’s family planning restrictions, already eased in late 2013 when Beijing said it would allow more families to have two children when the parents met certain conditions…

The announcement was made at the close of a key Party meeting focused on financial reforms and maintaining growth between 2016 and 2020 amid concerns over the country’s slowing economy.

China will “fully implement a policy of allowing each couple to have two children as an active response to an ageing population”, the party said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

There were no immediate details on the new policy or a timeframe for implementation.”

While this is great news, it is too late for so many Chinese families who have not been able to have a second child for decades and have outlived their first child. Further, it is unclear what will happen to children born “illegally”. As the Guardian reports, such children face severe legal discrimination, merely for being born:

“But it [the Chinese Government] also deterred parents from having a second child by levying a terrible punishment on so-called illegal children. Such offspring are denied a ‘hukou’, or residence permit, rendering them almost invisible in the eyes of the law and government.

The document is far more important than its English name suggests, and is the basis of official life in China. Citizens need one to access everything from schooling and healthcare to transport, law courts and libraries…

The group of ‘illegal’ children living in the shadows of Chinese society are vulnerable to many kinds of abuse as a result. According to a 2010 census there are at least 13 million. But experts believe two or three times as many may have gone unregistered, because of fear of government reprisals.

It was not clear from Thursday’s announcement, released after government offices had closed for the day, whether some of that group might be able to retrospectively claim their full rights as Chinese citizens.”

Even leaving that to one side (akin to asking, “Aside from that, how was the play Mrs Lincoln?) there are serious concerns that the Chinese Government’s relaxation of the rules are far too late to help economically or demographically. These concerns are set out in this Telegraph article:

“The policy shift will make no difference to the workforce for almost 20 years and by then China will already be in the full grip of a demographic crunch.

‘They have merely moved to a two-child policy. The family planning authorities are still there, and there is still an apparatus of state power intruding into people’s intimate lives,’ said Jonathan Fenby, a China veteran at Trusted Sources.” 

And due to the Government’s earlier meddling in their citizens’ family planning decisions,

“The workforce began to decline in absolute terms in 2012 and has since been shrinking by 3m people a year.

The International Monetary Fund says the reserve army of labour peaked five years ago and is going into “precipitous decline”, threatening a labour shortage of 140m by the early 2030s.

This is happening just as life expectancy soars to 75.2 – with a target of 77 in 2020 – causing a drastic deterioration in the ratio of workers to pensioners, and unlike the demographic decline in Japan it will start to bite before the country is rich. The ratio was 6.6 in 2000. It is expected to be 2.37 in 2030 and 1.25 in 2060. 

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says the fertility rate has collapsed to 1.4 and is nearing the danger line of 1.3, the so-called “low fertility trap” where it becomes culturally self-perpetuating. This has already happened in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, and in some of China’s richest cities.”

And as we’ve talked about before, it is one thing to tell people they can have more children, it is another thing for people to actually have more children. Especially when they’ve had 40 years of government propaganda and cultural conditioning extolling the virtues of a small family. So even with this relaxation, there are serious doubts that China will suddenly have many more children:

“The rate in Shanghai has fallen to 0.8 for complex social reasons that no longer have anything to do with one-child policy. A relaxation of the rules in 2013 has not led to a pick-up in the city.

‘Having children is simply too expensive. Working couples can’t afford private hospital costs, childcare and kindergartens,’ said Mr Fenby.” 

The Telegraph article goes on to talk of China’s other deep-seated economic worries. It is well worth reading although it does not make comfortable reading for anyone, considering the importance of Chinese stimulus to the world’s economy.

Who would have thought there might be unintended consequences of forcibly limiting the number of children hundreds of millions of people can have?

We should remember, though, that this news, while good, is only a step in the right direction. The newly announced “two child policy” is not a good policy. (Vietnam had such a policy until 2003.) It is merely better than what it replaced. It is still a gross human rights violation that involves the state trying to regulate its citizens’ most intimate decisions. It will still result in “illegally” born third children – will they suffer the legal discrimination that was until now shared by second children?

There is no reason to believe that the draconian fines, the pulling down of houses, the forced sterilisations, forced abortions and deaths will not continue to be used against those who dare to have three children. Aside from the economic and demographic insanity of such population control measures, such policies are intrinsically evil. It is a breach of human rights on a massive scale. As William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International calls for in the Stuff article, all control over Chinese citizens’ family sizes should cease immediately:

“China should immediately and completely end its control over people’s decisions to have children. This would not only be good for improving human rights, but would also make sense given the stark demographic challenges that lie ahead.”


Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...