In 1979, the Chinese government adopted a radical, draconian set of family planning regulations intended to curb the effects of overpopulation in China. Informally known as the "one-child policy," these regulations restrict the majority of Chinese couples to having only one child. All couples must apply for a birth permit before starting a pregnancy. After having the permitted number of children (one in most areas), women are required to undergo IUD (intra-uterine device) insertion (although in many cases IUD insertion is forced upon women before they even apply for a birth permit) or be sterilized. Unauthorized pregnancies must be terminated, and after an unauthorized birth, one spouse must be sterilized.
The one-child policy raises several human rights issues. Enforcement methods are coercive and harsh, and include forced abortions and forced sterilizations. Moreover, a traditional preference for sons in China causes many couples to abort or abandon baby girls, creating an acute gender imbalance that has led to an increase in the trafficking of females nationwide.
In 1991, the government issued new regulations tying the evaluations of local population control officials with their ability to meet birth quotas within their jurisdictions. Consequently, these officials began employing more authoritarian measures to prevent, detect, and terminate unauthorized pregnancies, including the use of local informants to discover unauthorized pregnancies, forced late-term abortions (some as late as nine months), forced IUD insertion, forced sterilization, the detention of pregnant women or their family members, and the destruction of the homes of those who violate the policy.
Even those who escape the most draconian enforcement methods undergo great hardship. In addition to incurring heavy fines that average citizens cannot afford to pay, a woman or couple found to be in violation of population control policies may face job loss, denial of household registration for the new-born child, loss of business licenses, loss of driving licenses, expulsion from the Communist Party, refusal of loans and denial of passports.
The population control policy has also exacerbated discrimination and violence against girls. Because of traditional preferences for boys, especially among the rural population, unwanted girls can be subject to sex-selective abortions, abandoned after birth, or even killed. A major consequence of the population control policy has been a serious imbalance between male and female infants in China today. As of 2008, there were 123 boys born for every 100 girls in rural areas, and the national average stood at 120:100 (average gender ratios worldwide are 103-107 boys for every 100 girls). Many social scientists blame this gender imbalance for an increase in the trafficking of women in China.
Couples who manage to evade authorities and give birth to a child without a permit are often unable to pay the exorbitant fines that would be necessary for them to register their child as part of their household. Without this household registration, or hukou, such children, often referred to as hei haizi (“black children”), are essentially treated as non-persons by the State and, hence, they are unable to access most public services, including education, health care, and often employment. Sometimes, a woman who becomes pregnant with a girl will choose to give birth to her in secret so that she can try later to have a son and register him instead.
Enforcement of the one-child policy varies from region to region, and continues to change over time. Restrictions are typically more lax in rural areas and for members of China’s 55 national minorities, although recent government statements imply this may no longer be the case. Most recently, couples in urban areas who are themselves both only children may be permitted to have a second child. Despite these variations, the one-child policy is still strictly and harshly enforced in many regions.
The one-child policy encompasses two main objectives: to reduce the quantity of the population, and to increase the quality of the population. Although the first objective receives the most attention, the second objective has frightening implications, including policies that are designed to weed out persons with severe mental or physical disabilities. Little is known about the scope of China's attempts at eugenics. In general, these policies provide for the sterilization of individuals with severe mental impairments or physical disabilities. Carriers of certain genetic diseases and diseases that are communicable during childbirth are also sterilized.
What LRF Does
LRF is one of the few organizations taking a bipartisan, secular approach to the one-child policy issue. We work to raise awareness on this issue in the following ways: