Current Affairs

China relaxes its ‘two-child policy’

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    World Affairs
  • Published
    4th Jun, 2021
  • Context

    Days after China’s census data showed population growth slipping to its slowest rate since the 1950s, the country has announced it will now allow three children per married couple — five years after it first relaxed its controversial one-child policy to two.

  • Background

    • For nearly 40 years, China enforced a controversial “one-child policy” – one of the strictest family planning regulations anywhere in the world.
    • It was first relaxed in 2016 with the “two-child policy” due to widespread concerns about an ageing workforce and economic stagnation.
    • This latest decision to permit the third child came after the recent once-in-a-decade census showed that China’s population grew at the slowest pace to 1.412 billion amid official projections that the decline may begin as early as next year.
  • Analysis

    What did the China’s 2020 census data say?

    • China’s 2020 census data shows the country’s rate of population growth falling rapidlydespite the 2016 relaxation.
    • Last year, 1.2 crore babies were born in China, down from 1.465 crore in 2019 — a fall of 18 per cent in one year, as per its National Bureau of Statistics.
    • The country’s fertility rate has now dropped to 1.3, far below the replacement level of 2.1 necessary for each generation to be fully replenished.

    Projections made by the United Nations

    The United Nations expects China’s population to begin declining after 2030, but some experts say this could happen as early as in the next one or two years. By 2025, the country is set to lose its ‘most populous’ tag to India, which in 2020 had an estimated 138 crore people, 1.5 per cent behind China.
  • What were China's previous policies?

    • One-child policy: China embarked upon its one-child policy in 1980, when the Communist Party was concerned that the country’s growing population, which at the time was approaching one billion, would impede economic progress.
    • The policy, which was implemented more effectively in urban areas, was enforced through several means, including incentivising families financially to have one child, making contraceptives widely available, and imposing sanctions against those who violated the policy.
      • However, the one-child limit was also a source of discontent, as the state used brutal tactics such as forced abortions and sterilisations.
      • It also met criticism and remained controversial for violating human rights, and for being unfair to poorer Chinese since the richer ones could afford to pay economic sanctions if they violated the policy.
    • Two-child policy: China permitted all couples to have two children in 2016, scrapping the draconian decades-old one-child policy which policymakers blame for the demographic crisis in the country.
  • What are the issues in China?

    • Lack of interest: Chinese couples do not seem to want to produce more babies. The long socio-political conditioning of the Chinese people and constantly growing costs of raising a child are among the reasons preventing couples from going for more children.
    • Family planning: The cost of living rises and women increasingly make their own family planning choices.
    • Less number of women entering childbearing age: The long birth control policy also meant that the number of women entering childbearing age is actually declining in China.
    • High social cost: Growing elderly population, declining number of childbearing women and shrinking working population base translate into increased burden on the communist government for pension, healthcare, and social security services.
  • What lessons India need to learn from China’s experience?

    • India and its states must learn from China’s failed experience with enforcing coercive population policies.
    • Stringent population control measures have created a population crisis for China.
    • Challenges of aging population: Today Sikkim and Lakshadweep also face the challenges of an aging population, shrinking labour workforce and an increase in sex selective practices, given that the total fertility rate (TFR) well below the replacement level.
    • Fertility rate: Religion has little to do with fertility levels. Muslim dominated countries like Indonesia and Bangladesh, have out-performed India in terms of falling birth rates.
    • Even within India, the fertility rates among Muslims in Kerala is lower than the fertility rates among Hindus in Bihar. States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh have proven that it is not religion that matters. What has made the difference is education, employment opportunities and accessibility of contraceptives.
    • In neighbouring Sri Lanka, fertility rates were stabilised by simply increasing the age at marriage, a move that was made more effective by ensuring girls were educated.

    Population trend of India

    • In India, according to the UNFPA’s India Ageing Report 2017, the share of population over the age of 60 is projected to increase from 8% in 2015 to 19% in 2050.
    • By the end of the century, the elderly will constitute nearly 34% of the population.
    • The annual growth rate of the elderly will be over 3% till the middle of this century indicating faster pace of growth than other age categories.
    • On the contrary, the growth rate of younger age group is already negative.
  • Failed efforts made by Indian Government

    • Recommended addition of DPSP Article 47A: In 2002, a government committee to review the working of the Constitution had recommendedadding directive principle Article 47A which said: "Control of population- The State shall endeavour to secure control of population by means of education and implementation of small family norms." However, this had not been done.
    • Population Control Bill (2016): Population Control Bill introduced in 2016 in the Lok Sabha, suggested the denial of all welfare benefits to those who had a third child after the bill was passed. The bill also required families to get official permission for a third child. It never came to vote.
    • Population Control Bill, 2019: In June 2019, another Population Control Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha asking for benefits for single- and two-child families and the removal of benefits and a fine for those who have a third child. Families would have to take permission from a committee before having a third child, the bill said.

    Indian states with two-child norm policy

    • Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, already have some form of the two-child norm in place for those running for elected government posts or government jobs.
    • Assam became the latest state in December 2020 to deprive citizens with more than two children of basic rights such as working in government jobs.
  • Conclusion

    China’s new policy alone will not reverse it’s declining fertility, though it sends a symbolic message after decades of the one-child limit that was often brutally enforced by forced abortions and sterilisations.

    In the case of India, the population problem is much serious. In the country, even if couples decide to have only one or two children, India's population will continue to increase until 2051 as the population is young, with over 60% under the age of 35 years. The increasing population poses a significant challenge, both for the environment and for countries struggling to provide a basic standard of living for everyone.