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China switches over to ‘Hum Do, Humare Do’; By Shastri Ramachandaran

  C3S Paper No. 0197/2015

Courtesy: dnaIndia

China’s announcement of October 29 to end its one-child policy, which was enforced with a heavy hand for over 30 years, has been widely welcomed although questions are being asked about what an “active two-child policy may mean”. For the present, the emphasis is on the positives, and the momentous decision is being debated for its economic consequences, demographic results and political significance.

This is one of those few decisions viewed as being good in both political and economic terms. The decision came in a communique released by the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the end of the four-day deliberations to finalise the country’s 13th Five-year Plan. The focus of the fifth plenum of the CPC’s 18th Central Committee held last week was on charting the course of the world’s second largest economy, which, after three decades of turbo-charged growth, has caused concern because of falling growth rate in recent years.

The slow-down comes amidst worries that an ageing population would weigh heavily on the economy by a further shrinking of the dwindling labour pool. The declining population of those in the working age of 15-59 years also means decreased consumption and lower spending, which could be bad news for an economy looking to boost growth.

Available figures show that China’s ageing population is expected to go up from 110 million in 2010 to 210 million in 2030; and, these seniors would be a quarter of the population by 2050. According to United Nations estimates, China would be losing 67 million workers from 2010 to 2030. Thus, there is every chance of the world’s most populous nation getting old before it manages to “get rich”, as exhorted by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s when he unleashed reforms that resulted in China’s extraordinary rise as an economic power.

Paradoxically, the same period –1978-80 – when economic reforms were initiated also witnessed the imposition of the one-child policy in China. The population control policy of China was mooted in 1978 and enforced by law from 1980. It was expected that the one-child norm would address social and economic problems that could have frustrated reforms.

While the reforms dictated by market economics have been a huge success, the population policy — also dictated by market economics — gave rise to political and bureaucratic excesses such as forced abortions and sterilisations; and, discrimination against families with more than one child such as the offspring being deemed “illegal” and the parents being subject to oppressive penalties.

The exceptions were rural families and minorities, as the law allowed them to have more than one child. This did not deter official excesses against families with more than two children. The parents often found themselves out of jobs, and the “illegal” children left without a hukou (citizen’s registered identity essential for residence, education and employment).

In 2013, the law permitted couples without siblings to have two children. Since then, there was growing expectation, and open speculation by scholars and commentators, that the one-child policy would be scrapped.

The two-child policy, much like the one-child law, is dictated by economic considerations. Yet its political symbolism should not be missed. The changed law may put an end to human rights violations such as forced abortions and sterilisations; denial of hukous and right to jobs, education and other entitlements; and, abolition of rules that spawned “illegal” children.

While ‘bed behaviour’ may no longer invite punitive action where reproductive outcome is illegal, the state still has a population control policy. In the first flush of optimism over the one-child law being scrapped, the full implications of the two-child policy are yet to sink in, especially for its flip side.

(The author, an independent political foreign affairs commentator, was Senior Editor & Writer with the Global Times and China Daily in Beijing.)

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