As has now been widely reported, China has ended its infamous one-child policy and replaced it with a new two-child policy. While many have celebrated this development, others have responded more cautiously. This leads us to ask a few questions:
- Is the two-child policy less oppressive than the one-child policy?
- Is it more just?
- Should China be praised for changing its law?
Is the two-child policy less oppressive?
The oppressive nature of the one-child policy has been widely recognized. Not only did the policy squarely violate international human rights law, which provides that women have the right to “decide freely” the number of their children, but it also gave rise to the widespread and atrocious practices of forced sterilization, forced abortion, and gendercide, among others. To put things in perspective, it has been estimated that nearly 1,500 unborn babies were aborted every hour under the one-child policy.
But to what extent will the two-child policy eradicate these ills? The new law still violates international human rights law. And the new law will not actually have a direct effect upon the majority of citizens. Under the old policy, approximately 65% of the Chinese population was already legally permitted to have two or more children. Granting the additional 35% of the population permission to have two children is a slight tick in the right direction (in addition to allowing for siblings, an additional child eventually allows for aunts, uncles, and cousins—all vital members of the human family that were gradually dying out in some populations). But the reality is that, after being permitted one additional child, these families will still experience the full weight of the draconian system.
Under the two-child policy, the vast bureaucratic system for monitoring the reproductive lives of Chinese people will remain in place, as will its coercive measures. The Chinese government is not open about exactly what these measures entail (apart from fines), but many believe that the widespread beatings of pregnant women, forced sterilizations, and forced abortions will continue under the new law. So, although it could be argued that the new policy is less oppressive than the old, the new policy is still hideously oppressive—and human rights activists must remain focused on this.
Is the new policy more just?
No. The new policy is no more just than the old because the two rest on precisely the same premises, namely, that the government has the ability to determine when it will be most beneficial to society for children to be born and the authority to impose its determinations by force.
Ironically, the change from the one-child to the two-child policy is testament to the government’s lack of ability to determine when it will be most beneficial to society for children to be born. The one-child policy has been an economic and social disaster, leaving China with an aging population and a skewed male-female ratio. Rather than acknowledging that the determination of the numbering and spacing of children is too large a job for government and, even for purely practical reasons, should be left to the people themselves, China has now doubled-down on its commitment to developing and implementing bureaucratic breeding policies.
As serious as the economic and social problems caused by these breeding policies are, the deeper problem is one of principle. The government should not have the power to prevent citizens from having children. If the people keep any personal freedom from the state, surely they should keep the right to reproduce freely.
Should China be praised for changing its law?
A government committed to coercing its mothers to kill their children in their wombs is not one that deserves praise for deciding to tweak its breeding program. Laws limiting family size are unjust and oppressive, whether they allow one child or two. To protect human dignity and freedom, we must continue to press for their immediate and permanent end.