Don’t worry, everyone. China still has the most brutal and backward family planning policies in the world.
I work at a newspaper, but the biggest news in weeks broke while I was on my way home for the weekend Thursday night. In the 45-minutes it took to get from my office to my home, my Facebook, Twitter, and in-boxes were filled with two things – celebration over the end of China’s decades-old One-Child Policy and questions asking me what is really going on over here. So let me explain what China’s new Two-Child Policy actually means.
This is only a proposal.
The Two-Child Policy has not been approved by China’s government yet. Couples are not yet safe to have two children. It will still take several months for the policy to be accepted by the government and then it could take up to a year to be adopted nationwide. When the government eased restrictions two years ago, it took over a year for the policy to take effect here in Shenzhen. That means that if a woman was to get pregnant with an unapproved second child tomorrow, she would still be in violation of the law and have to pay a huge fine or risk her child being denied a hukou or be forced to terminate the pregnancy.
All Chinese couples can eventually have two children.
— Chen Guangcheng 陈光诚 (@iguangcheng) October 29, 2015
Two years ago, China already relaxed the One-Child Policy and announced that in families where one of the parents was an only child, the couple could have two children. The new policy will allow all couples to have two children.
But they have to apply for it.
You can’t just go out and get pregnant in China. You have to apply for permission, even for a first child. The same is now true of a second child – you have to ask the government if it is okay first.
You Can’t Undo Decades of Brainwashing Overnight
China’s insistence that families should only have one child pre-date the current One-Child Policy. Even though Mao initially encouraged families to have as many children as possible to spur the economy, by 1970 the government had serious concerns about the country’s population explosion and began “encouraging” people to marry later and have as few children as possible. The official One-Child Policy was enacted by 1980. Most people of child-bearing age today have only lived under the One-Child Policy.
The One-Child Policy isn’t simply a rule like “wear your seat belt” that most people begrudgingly accept. It has been pounded into their minds that having only one child is their moral and patriotic duty. To have more than one child would be to betray China. The punishments for violating the policy have been strict and brutal, creating a culture of fear of the government and authorities. Forced abortions are still commonplace today. Abortion under duress even more so. Families who violate the policy have to pay huge, life-crushing fines. Families who cannot pay the fines can be denied jobs and housing. Children born outside the policy are denied personhood, by which I mean they are denied a hukou or official registration. Hukou-less persons are denied schooling, healthcare, housing, jobs, bank accounts, train/bus/airplane tickets, and cannot marry. They don’t exist in their own country. They also can never leave because they cannot apply for a passport.
People in China also believe that having a second child is too expensive. When you only have one child, it is easy to think that that child has to have the best life – the best clothes, the best education, live in the best neighborhood, go to the best college, and so on. Because of this, many people believe their expenses for raising a second child will double. Instead of finding ways to cut costs by sending them to a less expensive school, many families who qualify for a second child opt out because of financial concerns.
After living your whole life in this kind of environment, it is difficult to suddenly change your way of thinking and have a second child.
Last year, when the restrictions were first eased, the government estimated that 90 million children could be born under the new policy. Only around 250,000 were. Here in Shenzhen, it was estimated that 25,000 couples qualified to have a second child. Only around 1,500 were born – in a city of 14 million people. The effect of a limited second-child policy was almost negligible. Some scholars estimate it will take 70-100 years for China’s birthrate to return to normal.
Current Second Children Born Outside the One-Child Policy Will Still Be Denied Personhood
There has been no indication that current second children who were born outside the One-Child Policy will be granted clemency. Their parents still broke the law and they and their children must suffer for that.
Any child born outside the Two-Child Policy Will Be Denied Personhood
Any child born outside the new two-child policy will still be denied a hukou.
Women Who Get Pregnant Outside China’s Family Planning Polices Are Punished
China’s Family Planning Policies go beyond the One-Child Policy. In China, women who get pregnant out of wedlockcan be legally fired from their job. Women who have a child out of wedlock can be denied housing. Women who have a child out of wedlock are subject to the same fines as couples who have children outside the One-Child Policy. Chinese women who are not married are not allowed to store their eggs for future fertility treatments.
And, of course, children born to women who are not married can also be denied personhood.
Just to be clear, men cannot be fired from their jobs nor are they fined for having a child out of wedlock.
Nothing Has Changed
Long story short – this isn’t good enough. China’s family planning policies are still in violation of basic human rights. Do not give China any kudos for this. Only when China ends all of its family planning policies and every person in China is recognized as a human being will it be good enough.