Calamity of China’s one-child policy should never again be allowed anywhere


The abolition of China’s 35-year-old one-child policy closes one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history.

In the late 1970s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), determined to boost economic growth, decided that population control was the answer.

Millions of abortions, sterilisations, and infanticides later, the chickens are coming home to roost.


Data released by China’s Health Ministry in 2013 indicate that from 1971 to 2012, 336 million abortions — more than the entire US population — were carried out in registered facilities alone.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission, the government agency responsible for enforcing the one-child policy, reports an even higher figure: more than 13 million surgical abortions each year — a figure that does not include abortions induced by drugs or carried out in unregistered private clinics.

Of course, it is impossible to know precisely what share of those abortions can be attributed to enforcement of the one-child policy.

But in, say, India, where abortion is legal and no comparable family planning policy exists, the figure is significantly lower — though probably not as low as the 630,000 annual figure provided by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Indeed, it is probably closer to six million per year.

Forced abortions are only the beginning. Indeed, these figures — however shocking — do not capture the human suffering or the harsh economic consequences brought about by the one-child policy.


Media often reported stories of unspeakable brutality by local officials against pregnant women and families who violated the policy — a unique savagery captured in Ma Jian’s novel, The Dark Road.

In a much-publicised 2012 case, local officials in Shaanxi province forced a woman to undergo an abortion seven months into her pregnancy.

Beyond physical and emotional trauma, violators of the one-child policy — who are most often among the country’s poorest — face serious economic penalties.

Provincial sampling suggests that the Chinese government collects about CN¥20 billion ($3 billion) per year in family-planning fines.

And local officials in many localities explicitly threaten violators with other harsh punishments, including destruction of their houses and confiscation of their farm animals.


The one-child policy’s long-term demographic consequences have been devastating as well.

According to official data, China’s old-age dependency ratio currently stands at 13 per cent.

As the one-child generation ages, this ratio will skyrocket, with the labour surplus that supported China’s economic miracle giving way to a severe shortage that depresses growth.

Equally problematic is China’s alarming gender imbalance.

Families’ preference that their one child be male led to innumerable sex-selective abortions, as well as female infanticide and abandonment.

As of 2013, boys aged 0-24 outnumbered girls by 23 million, implying that more than 20 million young men will not be able to find marriage partners in the coming decades.


The most sobering lesson from this tally of the one-child policy’s toll on China lies in the simple fact that the authorities were able to enforce it for so long.

In fact, China is the only country in history where a government has actually succeeded in using coercion to limit its people’s reproductive choices.

Outside observers often marvel at the CCP’s capacity to get things done — at least when those things are the construction of super-modern cities and a high-speed rail network.

Seldom do they note the disastrous consequences when the party applies its power in stubborn pursuit of a brutal and destructive objective.

Now is the time to recognise those consequences, particularly given that China’s leaders are not done limiting their citizens’ reproductive choices.

On the contrary, they are simply moving from a one-child policy to a two-child policy.

Outsiders and Chinese alike must emphasise the senseless cruelty that such measures imply and work to ensure that they are never seen again — in China or anywhere else.