By Tishara Garg
Edited by Anjini Chandra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
It was 1979. China’s population was ballooning like never before. With it, came famines and deprivation and the the government finding it hard to provide for everyone on its territory. It had no choice but to come up with a policy that would slacken the population growth rate, bring about a relative stability in food and water supplies and improve individual prosperity.
However, the one child policy was supposed to be in place only for a few decades. After things had started falling into place, the policy would gradually be eased up or modified. Now, the government has realized that the policy has been in the picture for far more years than it should have been and the damages are already beyond repair.
It’s been thirty five years and China is still waiting. What seemed to be a boon for the economy then, is firing back upon its economic institution now. It’s anticipated that by 2030, a quarter of China’s population will be over sixty. A few more decades and China will get old before it gets richer. A demographic time bomb is ticking steadily, ready to explode anytime, mugging all China has managed to garner over the years by averting 400 million births, or so it claims.
But one of the major victims of China’s one child policy is its sex ratio. Due to their patriarchal ethos, the Chinese prefer to have a boy and would go for sex selective abortions and female infanticide. Against the world average of 101-104 males per 100 pregnancies (termed as sex ratio at birth, or SRB), China’s SRB stands at a whopping 118. It’s estimated that they are about 40 million more men under 20 than women in same age bracket. 40 million men with no hopes of marrying! There is no surprise that China has become the hub of female trafficking, with the incidence of paid sex hiking up with the dwindling sex ratio.
The pitfalls of the policy are not hard to see – bludgeoned sterilizations, forced abortions, violent collection of fines or the ‘social upbringing fee’, as they call it (which would be in several multiples of the average income), to name a few.
In the wake of such profound and far reaching devastations that impede growth, the government had announced a significant change to the policy, allowing couples to have two children, if either parent was an only child. However, if the current demographic trends hold, the economy will continue to flounder and ultimately the perilous demographic crunch will set it. Even if the government decides to scrap the policy, it’s not likely it’ll make way for the desired baby boom.
It was evident when the new policy, which made around 11 million couples eligible to bear a second child, elicited only 70,000 to apply for the same. In an economy with an ever rising cost of living and two parents and four grandparents to look after, people don’t want to bear the economic cost of raising another child. Moreover, the number of women between 20 to 40 years of age, who still can give birth has come down to tens in millions. So if at all, it would lead to only a small rise.
This is not the only obstacle in the path of rolling the policy back. The population control department in China employs a large number of people, most of whom will lose their jobs if the policy is scrapped. The sprawling family planning bureaucracy will be the least in favour of letting go of the lucrative fines imposed on couples who break the rules.
There is a dire need to scrap the policy entirely and efforts must be made to encourage people into having more children. Incentive schemes have to be worked out, so as to persuade people to have a girl child. If the population growth is not revved up and gender imbalance not equilibrated, the day is not far when the demographic structure will ultimately hemorrhage to expiration, leaving everybody helpless.
Tishara Garg is a freelance writer pursuing her bachelors in Economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce. She’s been writing for Yamuna and Renaissance for past one year on subjects like Indian history, politics and culture. Currently, she is the Chief Coordinator of The History and Political Science Society. An avid quizzer and a civil services aspirant, she also heads the quizzing wing and UPSC Cell of her college. She loves to travel and has a knack for ending things on a funny note but fails.