Thursday, 29 October 2015

China's Shifting Demographics

Posters like these may be obsolete soon - what's with the red-eyed panda?
Breaking news this afternoon -- China has lifted its one-child policy and now couples are allowed to have more than one without any preconditions.

This is a stark change from when an ex-colleague of mine in Beijing told me quietly that he was the second child born illegally and his parents paid dearly for it.

They were previously quite active in the Communist Party and then they were shunned. Not only that but they had to pay a massive fine.

So this latest announcement is a big step foward in liberalizing family planning restrictions. For the longest time no one could have more than one child except for ethnic minorities. And then it shifted slightly with both only children could have another child, then only one parent who was an only child was necessary to be eligible to have two children, and in the countryside if the first born was a girl, the family could have another child.

The one-child policy has been in place since 1976
But now every family will be allowed to have two children, in the hopes of easing labour shortages and caring for the elderly.

China will "fully implement a policy of allowing each couple to have two children as an active response to an aging population", the Communist Party said in a statement today during the fifth plenum, where party elites are discussing the next five-year plan.

It's caring for the elderly that has made young people stressed out. When I was in Beijing eight years ago, they would talk about how they would have to look after two sets of grandparents and parents. And if they married that would be doubled.

That is too much of a burden for one child, not just financially which is already a huge cost, but physically being able to care for so many people.

Also sad is their lack of experience in having a sibling, of learning to share, and having relatives like cousins, uncles and aunts.

While that all changes soon, though no time frame was announced today, babies won't be popping out overnight.

That's because the cost of having a child, particularly in urban areas, is so expensive, that financially parents are not keen on having another one to raise.

As a result, some critics say the measure is too little, too late.

Having more than one child is too expensive for many families
William Nee, a researcher with China Rights Watch, sees this as an important political and social issue.

"China should immediately and completely end its control over people's decisions to have children. This would not only be good for improving human rights, but would also make sense given the stark demographic challenges that lie ahead," he said.

It really is a human rights issue -- being told you can or cannot have children by the government seems strange to the rest of us, but for the Chinese, it will take time (and money) to get used to this new idea.

What will be interesting to watch is that if this easing with stop the widening sex ratio between men and women. Currently it's at around 118 men for every 100 women which is not good. There are remote villages of single men.

I had previously thought this would give women the edge in choosing their mate, but it's the exact opposite -- females have become commodities in high demand and treated as such, rather than as humans.

There are studies showing higher numbers of kidnappings and sexual assaults against women which is very troubling because there aren't enough of them to marry. And women in the cities with careers aren't necessarily interested in settling down either.

So hopefully with the family planning policy being lifted, there will be a more normal ratio of men to women. Hope demographers will be pressing the reset button when this happens to record this latest change in China's population shift.

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