China announced today via its state-run news agency, Xinhua, that its infamous one-child policy would be abolished for most people. Since the late 1970s, couples living in urban areas have only been allowed to have one child, unless both parties were themselves only children, in which case they were allowed to have two children. Now most couples can have two children, provided that one of the partners is an only child.
Reporting earlier today from China, CNN’s David McKenzie said, “It’s a policy that many economists have said should be changed … China is facing an aging population, a shrinking labor population … and that could reach a crisis point, so I believe that was one major economic reason that they decided to relax this one-child policy.” China’s workforce will eventually expand as a result of the relaxed reproductive rules, as will their housing market and domestic consumer economy. However, “it may be too little too late, given that the labor force is estimated to begin declining by as much as 10 million a year starting in 2025,” as Adam Pasick notes in a post on The Atlantic.
“China’s cultural preference for boys meant that, for many years, parents used various ways to avoid having a daughter, including abortions of female fetuses and even infanticide,” Pasick writes. In the coming years, China can expect to see approximately 9.5 million new births a year, as citizens say they are thrilled about the news and definitely plan to have a second child. That will, of course, put a major strain on the environment; the Chinese government has already “warned that demand for water might outstrip supply by 2030,” Pasick says. The Guardian notes that the Chinese province of Henan “is one of the most environmentally stressed areas of China with a quarter of the water and a fifth of the land per capita compared to the already low national average.” It also has 100 million residents, “giving it a population bigger than any country in Europe.”
China’s future, and therefore the future of humanity at large, is uncertain right now, but China’s desire to improve its abysmal human rights record is a step in the right direction in many ways. In addition to relaxing the one-child policy, the Chinese government also announced today that it will abolish “reform through labor” programs run in camps set up in the 1950s under Mao Zedong “and modeled on Soviet gulags,” according to CNN.
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