Abolition of China’s Population Control Policy Becoming Area of Consensus

Nora Sullivan, M.P.A  

Last week the Chinese government announced that a series of changes would be made in China’s social policy.  The reported reforms include the abolition of the much-criticized forced labor camps used for prisoners as well as the relaxation of China’s infamous one-child policy.


Last Friday, President Xi Jinping made public the sweeping reform measures after a meeting of top Communist Party officials.  However, while human rights groups have praised the closure of “re-education through labor” camps – in which society’s “undesirables” are imprisoned without trial or receiving a conviction – the changes made to the existing one-child policy have been disappointingly miniscule.


The adjustment to the mandatory population control policy simply states that the government will begin to permit parents to have a second child if one parent was an only child. Previously, both parents had to be only children.  China will, however, “persist in the basic national policy of birth planning.”  The state will continue to be the arbiter and enforcer of family size.


China’s population control policy was instated in 1979 and authorities claim that the law has prevented more than 400 million births since its implementation. This came about, at least in part, due to the aggressive enforcement of the one-child policy, which employed the use of forced abortions, sex- selective abortions, female infanticide, and the persecution of families who have refused to comply.


Sadly, many noted Western commentators have praised China’s population control measures over the years.  In a letter to the New York Times advocating that Chinese asylum seekers – seeking to escape the brutality of the one-child policy – be denied refuge in the United States, Sarah G. Epstein (of the Federation for American Immigration Reform and longtime board member of both the Population Institute and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington) stated that “the Chinese have developed one of the most humane and rational population policies in the world.”


Malcolm Potts of the Bixby Center for Population, Health, and Sustainability at UC Berkeley has claimed that the one-child policy is one of the most important social policies ever implemented.  Dr. Potts has asserted that China’s “contribution to international family planning could prove an important additional global benefit to the sacrifices the Chinese made to implement the one-child policy.”


Supporters of China’s population control policy tend to ignore, downplay or even justify the heinous human rights abuses which have been the primary result of this law.  Countless women have had their children forcibly and viciously aborted at the hands of violent and corrupt family planning officials.  Just this September, the news brokeregarding Liu Xinwen – whose home was raided by 20 officials from the Shandong Family Planning Committee who held down Liu’s husband while she was pulled from her bed and taken to a hospital where she was forcibly aborted at six months of pregnancy.  Those who speak out against these injustices, such as human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, find themselves brutally persecuted by the government.


The fundamental problems behind this flawed policy have not gone away – despite the few cosmetic changes announced by the Chinese government.  Steve Tsang, of the China Policy Institute, has stated, “The easing of the one-child policy cannot end the main abuses associated with it since it does not put an end to forced termination of unauthorized pregnancies, even at very late term.  Nor does it remove power from the local authorities in enforcing the one-child policy, who have regularly been responsible for abuses.”


China’s draconian population control policy has no place in a civilized world.  It is necessary for the entire policy apparatus to be dismantled.  As the editors of the Washington Post stated this week, “The one-child policy was a stake driven through individual freedom. Rather than continue to tinker with this misguided philosophy, China should abolish population controls altogether and unleash the ingenuity and energy of its people by allowing every one of them, individually, to make life’s most important decisions.”


The abolition of China’s population control policy is an area of consensus which all advocates for human rights, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, should be able to stand squarely behind.  This matter must be moved up higher on the United States’ human rights agenda.  The U.S. State department should make it clear that any sort of amicable relationship between our two countries is contingent upon the end of this abusive policy.


Nora Sullivan is a Research Assistant at Charlotte Lozier Institute.


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