The most recent criticism has arisen over the story of a Chinese woman forced to have a late-term abortion as she was unable to pay the fine associated with having a second child. Pictures of Feng Jianmei and her dead baby later surfaced online, causing horror around the world, amid reports that the victim was beaten and held against her will before the forced termination seven months into her pregnancy.
Tens of millions of abortions have taken place in China since the law was introduced. Only a fraction of these are thought to have been a result of direct coercion, yet the sense of immorality incurred by such an act remains potent nonetheless.
Responding to the outcry following the incident, the Chinese government has removed three officials from their posts, yet this does not appear to have appeased an angry public which sees the move merely as a publicity stunt.
The problem of forced abortion is one of a number of serious issues associated with the one-child policy. Another was highlighted last week when a group of around 100 parents moved to sue the Chinese government, since the one child they were allowed has since died, leaving them with no one to support them in their old age (they represent the estimated 1 million parents across China in a similar position). In a society where the elderly are traditionally cared for by their children, such people fear a bleak future.
Beyond the moral question and the problems associated with childless parents, China may well have inadvertently shot itself in the foot by creating the one-child policy. The sharp decline in population growth since the creation of the policy has led to a rapidly aging society. China is looking decidedly older, as a much higher proportion of elderly retirees look to be supported by a dwindling working population. It is estimated that by 2050 one 1 in 4 Chinese citizens will be over 60. With these kinds of figures, China’s prospects for being a global economic superpower as many expect are perhaps an overestimation. While the policy has curbed population growth in China, it is likely to come at an economic price in the coming years.
Furthermore, the gender imbalance that has resulted from the law will pose major problems for China in the coming years. Being allowed only one child, many female fetuses have been aborted in preference of raising sons. The result is that for every 100 girls born, there are around 120 boys. Trends suggest that in the next couple of decades, around one fifth of young adult males will go without a bride. This in turn could have major consequences for Chinese society.
All in all, the one-child policy appears to have been a flawed concept from the beginning.
The government boasts that the law has prevented some 400 million additions to the population in its 33 years, and as a country that battles daily with widespread poverty, population control is not an unwise strategy. However, the means by which the policy has been implemented, its effects on the moral fiber of the country and the hazards it poses for China’s future are increasingly indicating that it has created obstacles that will most likely prevent China from becoming the global power that it could have been.