China’s government on Thursday announced that it will allow families to have a total of two children, after enforcing a one-child policy since 1980 to combat a population that appeared to be growing out of control.
Announced as part of China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, although the policy was ultimately successful in reining in China’s population growth, it has caused significant demographic issues and social problems, namely a ratio of 116-118 men for every 100 women, and saddling a generation of only children with caring for two aging parents.
The policy has been under quiet review for years. Members of China’s 56 official minority groups have always been exempted entirely from any population limitation. A two-child policy in many rural areas, where couples who did not have a boy as their first child were allowed to have a second, was permitted. Within the last two years, residents of Beijing both of whom were an only child could apply to have a second child when the first was four years old.
However, headlines that state “China abandons one-child policy” are inaccurate. The government is not granting its Han Chinese citizens the chance to have a family of any size they wish. Families are still limited to two children and must still apply for permission to have them, as they did for their single child. There has been no indication yet if China family planning authorities will continue to use forced abortions and other coercive methods against couples who choose to have three or more children.
The China Patriotic Chinese Association, China’s state-run Catholic overseer, had no immediate reaction to the policy change, nor did the Vatican.
Reaction to the decision was mostly positive, but with some sadness expressed by parents, especially mothers, who had missed their chance to have a second child. Many comments related not to the policy change itself, but to the process around it. “If the government really wants to help the people, they would simplify the approval process [for having children,” one poster to an article about the announcement wrote on baidu.com, China’s most popular search engine. “If people have a second child, then they really won’t be able to afford a home in this property market,” wrote another, commenting on a similar story on the Chinese website of Global Times, a nationalist newspaper.