The tragic dilemmas of China's one-child policy

The tragic dilemmas of China's one-child policy

Babette Francis

China's earthquake tragedy, with the death toll over 69,000 at the time of writing, has highlighted a series of interlocking dilemmas created by the nation's totalitarian one-child policy. While Chinese repression in Tibet attracted wide condemnation, including from Hollywood celebrities such as Richard Gere and Sharon Stone, little concern has been expressed over the years about China's policy of forced abortions for mothers who exceed the one-child quota.

So many Western intellectuals support population control, they have overlooked the barbaric means. Sharon Stone speculates whether 'karma' explains the tragedy because the Chinese are 'not nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine'.

But bad karma does not explain the plight of parents who, having lost their only child in the earthquake, are now too old to have another. Mothers screamed as rescue teams dug through the quake school rubble and brought out bodies of dead children, the only child for many of these mothers.

Their cries echoed those of mothers over the past 29 years subjected to forced abortions for having an unauthorised pregnancy. 'One Extra Birth, Whole Family Sterilised,' warns a Chinese government propaganda poster.

The Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee in Sichuan province states that families whose only child has been killed in the earthquake can obtain a certificate to have another without the heavy fines and deprivation of education and benefits associated with a second child.

If a couple's 'legally' born child was killed an 'illegal' child under 18 years, could be registered as a legal replacement. If the dead child was 'illegal' the family would no longer have to pay outstanding fines. How magnanimous of the government!

Beijing will send a medical team to the earthquake zone to reverse sterilisation operations on parents who have lost children. The team will provide 'technological' support, including IVF, for those wanting another child.

A growing gender imbalance among Chinese children is another legacy of China's one-child policy. According to China Daily, 118 Chinese boys were born for every 100 Chinese girls last year. The natural ratio is 106 boys per l00 girls. The 118-100 Chinese split is just for births and doesn't account for the far greater number of girls than boys who are allowed to starve to death as children, or who are sent to ill-managed orphanages: 95% of Chinese orphans are girls.

In prosperous Guangdong province the ratio is 130 boys per 100 girls, proving financial hardship is not the cause of this phenomenon. UNICEF estimates there are only 832 girls per 1,000 boys in China, making the world's largest country its most sex-imbalanced, with no wives for thirty million Chinese men because of 'missing' girls.

Plight of elderly

However, the elderly of China's earthquake region may be the biggest losers as their surviving children, often working far away, concentrate on rebuilding their own lives. Nearly 32,000 elderly Chinese lost relatives in the May earthquake, compared to 8,000 orphaned children, most of whom have been reunited with relatives.

Confucianism is strong on reverence for age, but three decades of the one-child policy have weakened family bonds, and the population is becoming top-heavy with older people. 'The whole cultural tradition of Confucianism is being hit by an old- age tsunami,' says demographer Nicholas Eberstadt. 'It was easy to imagine filial piety and veneration of older people when they were a scarce commodity, but they're becoming really plentiful, and in the eyes of many, perhaps even a burden.

'There are more than 100 million Chinese over 65 today, a number that will approach a quarter of a billion by 2030. The number of women with no sons, now about 10 to 15 per cent of the population, is expected to grow to 30 per cent by 2025. China is going to be the poorest old society we've ever seen'.

Government officials have promised all elderly left homeless by the quake will be given food and shelter. Some elderly 'orphans' would prefer to be adopted by a family, but one official said while the adoption hotline for children rang day and night there was only one call about adopting an older person.

Meanwhile, religious freedom abuses include nine House Church leaders and two Bible teachers detained for helping quake victims. The Chinese government used the charge of 'illegal business operation' against believers who either managed bookstores or printed Bibles. 'The House Churches deserve the right to do charitable work such as providing relief to earthquake victims,' said China Aid Association AA President Bob Fu. 'We urge the Henan government to change its backward mentality of discriminating against those who do good deeds.'

Steven Mosher, President, Population Research Institute, said 'Twenty thousand people have been arrested for protesting the destruction of their homes [for the creation of the Olympic village] and have been added to the estimated 10 million people enslaved in Chinese labour camps' (known as Laogai).

Soccer stadiums in China are used for public executions with Mosher claiming that about 10,000 people are publicly executed in China every year and after the Olympic athletes, journalists and 'cheering crowds' have gone home, the new stadiums will become 'execution fields.'

In its April report Amnesty International stated that hopes were fading the Beijing Olympics may lead China to reform: 'It is increasingly clear much of the current wave of repression is occurring not in spite of the Olympics, but because of the Olympics.'

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.