One aspect of China’s One Child Policy that I had not considered was the tragedy of parents who outlive their single child and cannot have another.  This is not uncommon in China, where an estimated one million families nationwide have lost their sole child since the policy was introduced in 1980, and another 4 – 7 million are expected to do so in the next 20 to 30 years.  Some 4.63% of China’s 218 million one-child families are expected to lose their child before he or she reached the age of 25, meaning a total of around 10 million couples outliving their children.  Aside from the obvious tragedy for the family involved in losing their only child, there are also material concerns; often the child is depended upon to provide security and support in their parents’ old age.

The problem has even been acknowledged at the national level.  Since 2001, national law has required local governments to provide “the necessary help” to families who have lost their child.  The law does not define what “the necessary help” is, so the regulations vary by area and city. Sichuan province allows families to apply to have another child, while Shanghai provides a one-off payment of an unspecified amount.  Other local governments provide small stipends, and Beijing offers 200 yuan a month and “spiritual” support in the form of visits by young people.   However, some academics within China say that this is too little, and that the only sensible option is to overturn China’s one-child policy.  Gu Baochang, a professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, argues that while the authorities are increasingly recognising the problems of the one-child policy, they should have acted years ago and the dangers will only swell with time.  As Baochang says:

“The later they do this, the greater the pain, the bigger the costs, and the greater the number of families who lose their only child.”

Unfortunately, it probably won’t be anytime soon that the policy will be overturned, the head of the State Population and Family Planning Commission, Li Bin, said last year that China intended to “maintain and improve” existing measures.

In the meantime, mothers and fathers are left bereaved and without children to watch grow up. Wu Rui lost her 12 year old daughter in 1995 after a long struggle with epilepsy. 

“Today the 55-year-old takes care of herself and her own elderly parents on  a paltry pension in a ramshackle two-room home, living in fear of medical  emergencies she has no way to pay for…‘If I have a big illness then I probably won’t have enough,’ she says  quietly. ‘For sure there will be difficulties.’…She now spends much of her time at home, knitting sweaters and preparing food in a cramped kitchen — which doubles as her 76-year-old mother’s bedroom.  Her 80-year-old father, his hearing failing, sits one bed over in the narrow room they share. Two light bulbs dangle from a rope and cracked paint covers the walls.  Aside from ill health, Wu’s biggest fear is that their dingy but inexpensive home will soon be demolished, as many old Beijing residences have been.  The other half of their centrally located neighbourhood has already been replaced by modern towers, and if their alleyway is next they may be moved to an apartment that costs more than her monthly pension of 2,000 yuan ($310).”

A tragic tale, replicated throughout China. The sadness and the evil of government mandated population control truly has many faces.  The poor people.  

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...