Last week the Chinese government announced the end of the repressive one-child policy that had been in effect since the 1970s. Did they have some great epiphany about reproductive rights? Had they heard their citizens’ despair over the government’s invasive monitoring of birth control, ruinous fines, and forced abortions? Had they realized the social disaster they created when people responded to the policy by aborting female fetuses, or giving them up for adoption so that the only child could be a son? Nope, not at all.
As reported by the NY Times, representatives of the Chinese government said they were abolishing the one-child policy to “increase labor supply and ease pressures from an aging population,” hoping to engender “sustained and healthy economic development.” Married couples will now be allowed to have two children, so more people will be around to contribute to the GNP and take care of the old people. Yes, I see the merits in that. Economic growth is good, and no one wants the grandparents on the streets eating cat food.
But it is a sad day in human rights when it is laid out so plainly that the Chinese government has learned nothing, and made no advances in promoting the fundamental human right of reproduction. Since 1967, the UN has recognized self-determination in family planning as a basic human right. It was declared at that time:
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must inevitably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.”
The one-child policy combined with the traditional Chinese preference for males wreaked demographic havoc in China, and will for generations. It is expected that by 2020, there will be 30 million more young men than women. Millions of men with no hope of finding a partner isn’t good for any society. And, it’s reasonable to estimate that those numbers reflect 15 million missing females. When we talk about the consequences of the lower status of women, this is the ultimate in gender devaluation: not getting to exist.
So, while it is a good thing that couples in China are getting a little more flexibility in the number of children they can have, it’s deplorable that family planning continues to the be the decision of the state, rather than the individual.