Parents Benefit From One-Child Policy – If They Follow the Rules

The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts surveys China’s “One-Child Policy”, including its changing justifications, tangled rules, immense costs and array of incentives and penalties.

For family planners like Liu, … injustices and disturbances are seen not as failures, but as aberrations that call for policy tweaks. Countless adjustments over the past 30 years have created a mind-bogglingly complex system that touches on everything from contraception and sterilisation to pensions and tax incentives. In Henan alone, Liu says the family planning policy employs 17,000 administrators and 22,000 nursing and technical staff. In addition, support organisations claim a combined membership of 9,600,000 volunteers, who engage in work as diverse as spreading propaganda to monitoring menstruation cycles- something that is still common in villages though rare in cities.

The state has gone to remarkable lengths to try to fill the gaps left by the missing children. Rule-abiding parents can get a monthly stipend, extra pension benefits when they are older, preferential hospital treatment, first choice for government jobs, extra land allowances and, in some case, free homes and a tonne of free water a month. Their children are even given bonus points in middle school entrance exams ….

Enforcement requires a huge and powerful bureaucracy. “Henan has much to teach the world in family planning, but it is a hard lesson to learn. Officials from Africa and India come to study what we are doing in China, but I’m not sure that they can apply it the same way,” said Liu. “That’s because they don’t have a Communist party so it is difficult for them to take such strong steps.”

These “strong steps” are officially limited to financial penalties, but local authorities sometimes resort to illegal measures such as forced abortions and sterilisations: see a recent Guardian report on a Shandong woman allegedly killed during a forced late-term abortion, via CDT. It was his legal work to combat such abuses that led to the imprisonment and ongoing house arrest of Chen Guangcheng. As Watts reports in a separate article:

The heavy-handed tactics and coercion by officials have turned one-time champions against the policy. Liang Zhongtang, of the Shanghai Academy of Social Science, was one of its earliest and most influential advocates, but he now thinks it is ineffectual and wrong.

Many rural people have ignored the rules. And Thailand, by contrast, has achieved a sharper drop in its fertility rate over the same period without such tough measures.

More important, though, are his ethical concerns. “I realised that what we did was not right. It infringes people’s rights. Births are a matter than should be decided by individuals and families, not the government. We should halt the policy immediately.”