July 2010

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Unintended Consequences: The Story of China’s One Child Policy

by Keith Carey

“More children mean more happiness” is an old Chinese proverb. Throughout China’s 5,000 years of history, the Han Chinese have traditionally preferred early marriage, early child-bearing, and lots of children. Rural families needed extra workers for the fields, and children provided the labor they needed. There was also a good chance that children would not survive given the high infant mortality rate.
According to an article entitled, “Family Planning Policy in China,” (http://www.easytourchina.com/china-specials/Family-Planning-Policy-of-China.htm) it took an entire 200 years for China’s population to double from 250 million to 500 million. War, famine, natural disasters, and poor health care severely limited China’s population growth. Then in 1950, the population of China began to grow. The population doubled by 1980. By that time, the Chinese government was starting to implement population control measures. They believed that a rapidly rising population would eventually mean mass starvation and a general lower standard of living. How would they produce enough food to feed so many people? How would there be adequate health care or education?

Though there were some efforts to curtail population in the early 1970s, the Chinese government officially began their “One Family, One Child” policy in 1978. Initially it was supposed to last for one generation and primarily affect urban dwellers. In rural areas, people were allowed two children if the first child was a girl or had a serious birth defect. This policy was to affect only the Han Chinese population, not China’s minorities. People could keep all their children if they had multiple births. There were other exemptions as well.

The Results?
Thirty-two years later, the Chinese government has estimated that their current population of 1.3 billion would have included an additional 300 million people had they not implemented this policy. They have managed to curtail their population dramatically, but there have been many unintended consequences.

On the positive side, Chinese families are saving more money, partly due to the smaller size of their families. This may also be due to the fact that they need to save money so that they can survive more comfortably in their old age. Traditionally, the eldest son was charged with caring for his elderly parents. Now, if the “one child” couple gives birth to a girl, they risk being left destitute in their old age, because the daughter will be expected to take care of her husband’s family rather than her own. Therefore, couples prefers to not have a baby girl.

This has had tragic consequences for China. Though rural families are allowed to have another child if their first child is a girl, what happens if the second child is also a girl? Because of the availability of ultrasound machines, the couple can usually determine the gender of the child before birth, resulting in a large number of aborted baby girls. Even if the pregnancy is carried to full term, families sometimes don’t report the birth. Others abandon the girls to state-run orphanages, or even kill them.

Those newborn baby girls who wind up in orphanages are often given up for adoption to families in the West. Since there is a shortage of desirable baby girls to “sell” at good prices to foreigners for adoption or human trafficking, people sometimes stoop to dubious methods to obtain healthy infants. Kidnapping and human trafficking have become part of the picture. The Chinese government notes that each year 30,000-60,000 children go missing. According to a January 4, 2010 article in the Los Angeles Times, people are making a lot of money in China by selling babies for foreign adoption. Family planning officials can also make a lot of money by “confiscating” children. This article also notes a tremendous gender imbalance. There are about 12 boys for every 10 girls in China today.
The gender imbalance has a number of consequences for China and her neighbors. School teachers are dealing with more boys than girls. Based on a Feb. 12, 2007 article in BBC News, even at an early age, the girls are behaving more aggressively in order to keep up with their masculine peers. The article also notes that there are probably about 30 million men of marriageable age that will not be able to find a wife. When you have such an imbalance, crime rates rise, according to an article entitled “More Men, More Crime: Evidence from China’s One-Child Policy.” (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1136376)

In a BBC News article dated January 11, 2010, one of the other unintended consequences of population control in China is more human trafficking and forced prostitution. Wealthy men are able to find brides. Women from poor families, or even from nearby countries such as North Korea, are being sold as brides to anyone who can afford them. But what will a poor man do who cannot afford to buy a wife? Those unfortunate men may turn to prostitutes.

Returning to the issue of who will care for aging parents, things are already looking bleak in China. The good news is that life expectancy has risen from age 41 to age 73 in the last 50 years. However, a study produced in part by the Prudential Foundation estimates that there will be 438 million Chinese over 60 years of age by 2050. With more elderly people who cannot work, and fewer children to care for them, China will have some difficult challenges ahead.

How is the Situation Affecting the Minority Groups?
Theoretically, the One-Child Policy is not supposed to be enforced on China’s minority groups, some of which we will be praying for this month. But there are situations that suggest that minority groups are not always exempt. Guangxi Province is home to 48 of China’s minority groups, most notably the Zhuang people who number in the millions. In May of 2007, government teams dressed in military fatigues and helmets marched through Guangxi villages searching for families that were violating the One Child Policy. They carried sledge hammers to demolish the homes of those who resisted their will. They were going to impose heavy fines on people with too many children, according to a Hong Kong-based report. Tempers flared, and there was a riot. The Chinese government has also been known to force abortions and sterilization upon women.

It would be very tempting for the Chinese government to try to curb the populations of troublesome ethnic groups in their western provinces like Tibet and Xingjiang. Tibetans have long been causing trouble for Chinese rule, as have the Uighurs of Xingjiang. China is already sending millions of Han Chinese into these regions, a move that will add to their control.

Let’s Pray!
God has a purpose for every individual and every nation. China has a large Christian population, perhaps as high as 100 million. They are already sending missionaries to their western provinces and other countries in hopes of reaching unreached Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus. Though the Chinese Church has shined brightly, the Chinese nation is not yet what God would want it to be.
Pray for God to touch the Chinese government in such a way that He will be glorified in that nation.
Pray for God’s children in China to help their nation find a humane and constructive way to deal with emerging problems.


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From the Editor

by Keith Carey, managing editor, GPD

Dear Praying Friends,

For millennia, the world’s population grew very slowly because of disease, war and famine. After World War II, we experienced rapid population growth due to improved medical treatments, and the development of antibiotics which conquered many deadly diseases. In addition, improvements in agricultural methods dramatically increased food output. This allowed millions of once chronically-deprived families to be adequately fed. Many scholars felt that hunger and malnutrition would be eradicated forever.

However, the world population has continued its rapid growth, and there is now concern that we will not have enough food to feed future generations. During the 1970s in China, home to about 20 percent of the world’s population, the Chinese leaders became concerned about their expanding population. The Chinese government introduced One-Child (per family) Policy in 1978 to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems. The One Child Policy theoretically was to affect only the majority Han Chinese population, but actually it has affected the entire nation, including China’s minorities, often in unexpected ways.
This month we will pray for unreached ethnic groups affected by the One-Child Policy, which has been enforced in China for about 32 years. This is a good issue to read in order to catch up on current events while praying for unreached people groups. Start by reading “Unintended Consequences…” to get the background of the situation. You might find this issue of the GPD very surprising.