Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Insights into Editorial: China’s One- or Two-child Policy



Insights into Editorial: China’s One- or Two-child Policy



China, in October 2015, ended its one child policy. Now, couples in China can have two children.


Why One Child Policy was adopted by China?

One child policy was adopted by China in 1979 out of the Malthusian fears that unchecked population growth would lead to economic and environmental catastrophe. It was also a response to concerns about food shortages.


What is Malthusian theory all about?

Thomas Robert Malthus was the first economist to propose a systematic theory of population. He articulated his views regarding population in his famous book, Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), for which he collected empirical data to support his thesis. He argued that if left unchecked, a population will outgrow its resources, leading to a host of problems.


Why China changed its policy?

China has a population of over 1.4 billion, 30% of which is over the age of 50. There is also huge gender imbalance. Now, China needs more people for joining workforce. The working population in China is coming down and elderly population is going up. So Communist Party of China has changed one-child policy to a two-child policy as the country is looking further ahead that China to have larger families.


Was the Policy Effective?

In essence, it did bring down the population by 400 million, according to Chinese officials.

  • But, it failed to spark a baby boom. When the announcement was made, 11 million couples were eligible to have a second child. As such, officials were expecting around two million births in 2014.
  • That figure never came into fruition as only 700,000 couples applied for the new dispensation and only 620,000 were given a permit. In other words, China is facing a huge demographic issue in the next years to come. They have a rapidly aging population where a quarter will be over 60 by 2030.


Negative implications:

Despite the fact that China had made leaps in its development indicators, the negative consequences of the one-child norm were severe enough to destabilise its society.

  • China’s one-child policy was never universal. It took into consideration the cultural preference for a male child and the needs of ethnic minorities. The one-child policy was imposed on the urban population. The rural population could have two children if the firstborn was a girl. The ethnic minorities were exempted from it, but were allowed no more than two children, and in rare exceptions a third. There was no scope for flexibility of these norms.
  • The birth of a second child in an urban setting, birth of a second child in a rural setting where the first child was a boy, and birth of a third child to an ethnic minority family would be considered illegal. In many instances, the birth of a girl child would not be reported in favour of a male child. In these cases, the “illegal” child could not be registered with the household registration system (hukou) and, hence, would receive no access to welfare, especially education and health services.
  • Substantial fines, loss of job, and incentives for compliance were mechanisms by which this policy was enforced. Many lives were disrupted with the state enforcing the norms strictly, and the social consequences were illegal and forced sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, resulting in a skewed sex ratio.
  • The rapid decrease in birth rate and increase in life expectancy resulted in a substantial increase in the proportion of the elderly population who had access to limited welfare.


What’s good about One Child Policy?

  • Helps to ease the over population problems.
  • It is seen as practical by some families.
  • Lowers the poverty rate.


Why it isn’t a good idea?

  • The enforcement is unequal.
  • It is a human rights violation.
  • Shrinking work population.
  • Gender imbalance due to the strong cultural preference of boys for labor and work.
  • Increase in abortions and female infanticide.
  • Extra babies end up being illegal and never becoming a citizen, due to fines.
  • Intrudes on people’s personal values and opinions.


Why such policies are not suitable for India?

The implications of such a policy being enforced in India would surely have been more disastrous than it did in China.

  • India is way behind China in basic development indicators like life expectancy, IMR and maternal mortality rate. The preference of a male child, the regional disparities in development, and the growing intolerance against minorities in the present milieu would be further magnified with the state entering homes and enforcing such strict norms.
  • The fact that women are at the receiving end of such policies in a patriarchal society is another story in itself. The burden of limiting family size falls on the woman, and most often female sterilisations are promoted rather than giving the couple the choice of contraception.
  • Limiting family size cannot be an end in itself at the neglect of basic needs and services like food security, housing, education, and health. It is important for a state to universalise these basic services than to impose a diktat of population control. When China imposed a one-child policy, it had already created a strong base for its population, despite which the consequences were severe. Therefore, it would be disastrous for India to even walk that path.



Of the many lessons to learn from contemporary China, one would be to abandon thoughts of population control. There is a lot of unlearning that India still needs to do. It is already experiencing a demographic transition characterised by a low birth rate and an increase in the ageing population. As a priority, the government needs to shift its focus on strengthening welfare services for the elderly and poor, and improve access to free and affordable health services for all.