China's Baby Blues

On Sunday Vice President Joe Biden included in his talk at China’s Sichuan University a characteristic blunder, saying, “Your policy has been one which I fully understand – I’m not second-guessing – of one child per family.” 

The blunder has inevitably led to uproar, bringing much-needed attention to a Chinese policy that is deplorable not only because of the reprehensible restrictions that it imposes on Chinese women and families, but also because of the gender imbalance and unsustainable aging population that it has created.

The draconian one child policy was originally implemented by the Chinese government in 1979 in an attempt to curb the country’s worrying rate of population growth. 

It is easy to understand the government’s legitimate fears of overpopulation and recognize the successes of this policy – accomplishments include preventing a 400 million increase in the population and, by proposing (or imposing) a preference for smaller families, the policy has also been recognized as preventing poverty.

While the policy has helped, its negative consequences far outweigh its benefits. Because while the one child policy aims to address important issues, the way in which it does this is problematic.

That the one child policy is, in Mitt Romney’s words, “gruesome and barbaric” is unquestionable; it is not the government’s place to deny women the right to plan families and impose blanket regulations on them. Further, it is not the government’s place to force sterilizations or compel women to have abortions – denying women fundamental rights.

While the issue of women’s rights is important, there are other considerable consequences of this badly planned policy.

Restricted to only one child and biased by a culture that favors baby boys to girls, many families have opted for gender-based abortions. This is problematic as it furthers a culture where a male child is preferred to a female child and also because it has created a significant gender imbalance in the population, where there are 119 boys born for every 100 girls, a situation that experts suggest will have dire implications in prostitution and sex-trafficking. 

But China’s one-child troubles don’t stop there. Biden, after his gaffe, touched on another issue the country is facing as a result of its policy: an aging population. Young wage earners have now been left supporting an increasing number of retired people – often two parents and four grandparents to an individual. This is not just a matter of a large expense for the working-age population to shoulder, it’s an unsustainable situation.

While Biden’s faux pas was lamentable, it has brought media attention back to and re-ignited debate on an important issue. There’s still hope and lots of good reason for the Chinese government to revise its policy: in the name of human rights, social planning, or sustainable economics. There’s just too much wrong with the one child policy for the government to hold on to it.

Photo Credit: jimmiehomeschoolmom

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Masuma Ahuja

Having lived on three continents, I'm particularly interested in global issues and international politics. I'm a recent graduate from Oxford, with an honors BA in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. I've also worked on the hill, in microfinance, and for various nonprofits and media outlets.

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