Under the misleading headline “China to Ease One-Child Policy,” Xinhua News Agency reported last Friday that China will now lift the ban on a second child, if either parent is an only child. It is already the case that couples can have a second child if both parents are themselves only children. This minor adjustment will not “ease” the one-child policy. It will merely tweak it.
Indeed, in apparent response to quell overly optimistic speculation that this small change represents a major reform, Xinhua ran another report over the weekend: “Birth Policy Changes Are No Big Deal.” In this second article Xinhua states that Wang Pei’an, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), told Xinhua that “the number of couples covered by the new policy is not very large across the country.”
In addition, Wang stated that “there is no unified timetable nationwide to start the new policy, as regions will implement it at different times based on their local situation.”
Wang “suggested that regions which have many suitable couples should promote a reasonable birth interval to avoid birth accumulation.”
He concluded that “the basic state policy of family planning will be adhered to over a long period of time.”
In other words, the minor modification of the policy announced Friday: 1) will not affect a large percentage of couples in China; 2) is not subject to a timetable in which to implement it; 3) retains the dreaded “birth intervals” between children (if a woman gets pregnant before the interval has lapsed, she may be subject to forced abortion); 4) makes no promise to end the coercive enforcement of the policy; and 5) promises to continue the one-child policy “over a long period of time” — which could be decades.
To say that China has “relaxed” or “eased” its one-child policy under these circumstances is entirely unwarranted. Furthermore, all the reasons given for this adjustment are economic or demographic: China’s dwindling labor force, the country’s growing elderly population, and the severe gender imbalance. The adjustment is a tacit acknowledgement that continuation of the one-child policy will lead to economic and demographic disaster. The policy was originally instituted for economic reasons. It is ironic that through this very policy, China has written its own economic, demographic death sentence.
Noticeably absent from the Chinese Communist party’s announcement is any mention of human rights. Even though it will now allow some couples to have a second child, China has not promised to end forced abortion, forced sterilization, or forced contraception. The coercive enforcement of China’s one-child policy is its core.
Instituting a two-child policy in certain, limited circumstances will not end forced abortion or forced sterilization. The problem with the one-child policy is not the number of children “allowed.” Rather, it is the fact that the CCP is telling women how many children they can have and then enforcing that limit through forced abortion and forced sterilization. Even if all couples were allowed two children, there is no guarantee that the CCP will cease their appalling methods of enforcement.
Regardless of the number of children allowed, women who get pregnant without permission will still be dragged out of their homes, strapped down to tables, and forced to abort babies that they want, even up to the ninth month of pregnancy. Pro-choice and pro-life advocates can agree: No one should support forced abortion, because it is not a choice.
Further, instituting a two-child policy will not end gendercide. Indeed, areas in which two children currently are allowed are especially vulnerable to gendercide, the sex-selective abortion of females. According to the 2009 British Medical Journal study of data from the 2005 national census, in nine provinces, for “second order births” where the first child is a girl, 160 boys were born for every 100 girls. In two provinces, Jiangsu and Anhui, for the second child, there were 190 boys for every hundred girls born. This study stated, “sex selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess males.”
Because of this gendercide, there are an estimated 37 million Chinese men who will never marry because their future wives were terminated before they were born. This gender imbalance is a powerful, driving force behind trafficking in women and sexual slavery, not only in China, but in neighboring nations as well.
The Chinese Communist party periodically modifies the One Child Policy, but the coercion at its core remains. Reports of these tweaks — especially when mischaracterized by Western media — throw the human-rights world into confusion and blunt genuine efforts to end forced abortion in China. On September 9, 2010, for example, Time ran the headline, “China Could Overthrow One-Child Rule.” Myriad other news sources followed suit. Numerous reports of late-term forced abortions have surfaced since 2010, including the forced abortion at seven months of Feng Jianmei in June 2012 and the forced abortion at six months of Liu Xinwen in October 2013.
Similarly, last Friday the mainstream media ran such headlines as “China Reforms: One-child policy to be relaxed” and “China to ease One Child Policy.” Such headlines are detrimental to sincere efforts to stop forced abortion in China, because they imply that the one-child policy is no longer a problem. In a world laden with compassion fatigue, people are relieved to cross China’s one-child policy off of their list of things to worry about.
But we cannot do that. Let us not abandon the women of China, who continue to face forced abortion up to the ninth month of pregnancy. The one-child policy does not need to be adjusted. It needs to be abolished.
— Reggie Littlejohn is president of Women’s Rights without Frontiers.