The Chinese government introduced the policy in 1979 to alleviate the social and environmental problems of China. The policy is controversial both within and outside China because of the issues it raises; because of the manner in which the policy has been implemented; and because of concerns about negative economic and social consequences. Nonetheless, a recent (2008) survey undertaken by the Pew Research Center showed that over 75% of the Chinese population supports the policy.
The policy is enforced at the provincial level through fines that are imposed based on the income of the family and other factors. However, there are still many citizens that continue to have more than one child, despite this policy. In February 2008 Chinese Government official Wu Jianmin said that the one-child policy would be reconsidered during the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March 2008, but at that time a representative of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission said that the policy would remain in place for at least another decade.
The social fostering or maintenance fee sometimes called in the West a family planning fine, is collected as a multiple of either the annual disposable income of city dwellers or the annual cash income of peasants as determined each year by the local statistics office. The fine for a child born above the birth quota that year is thus a multiple of, depending upon the locality, either urban resident disposable income or peasant cash income estimated that year by the local statistics. So a fine for a child born ten years ago is based on the income estimate for the year of the child's birth and not of the current year. They also have to pay for both the children to go to school and all the family's health care. Some children who are in one-child families pay less than the children in other families. The one child policy was designed from the outset to be a one generation policy.
The one-child policy is now enforced at the provincial level, and enforcement varies; some provinces have relaxed the restrictions. Some provinces and cities such as Beijing permit two "only child" parents to have two children. Henan province, with a population of about 100 million, does not allow this exception. Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, a limited exception to the regulations was announced in Sichuan province for parents who had lost children in the earthquake. Similar exceptions have previously been made for parents of severely disabled or deceased children..
Moreover, in accordance with PRC's affirmative action policies towards ethnic minorities, all non-Han ethnic groups are subjected to different rules and are usually allowed to have two children in urban areas, and three or four in rural areas; in addition, some couples simply pay a fine, or "social maintenance fee" to have more children. Thus the overall fertility rate of mainland China is, in fact, closer to two children per family than to one child per family (1.8). The steepest drop in fertility occurred in the 1970s before one child per family was implemented in 1979. This is due to the fact that population policies and campaigns have been ongoing in China since the 1950s. During the 1970s, a campaign of 'One is good, two is okay and three is too many' was heavily promoted.
In April 2007 a study by the University of California, Irvine, which claimed to be the first systematic study of the policy, found that it had proved "remarkably effective". Other reports have shown population aging and negative population growth in some areas.
In total, China estimates that it has three to four hundred million fewer people today, with the one-child policy, than it would have had otherwise. Chinese authorities thus consider the policy as a great success in helping to implement China's current economic growth. The reduction in the fertility rate and thus population growth has reduced the severity of problems that come with overpopulation, like epidemics, slums, overwhelmed social services (such as health, education, law enforcement), and strain on the ecosystem from abuse of fertile land and production of high volumes of waste. However, even with the one-child policy in place, "China still has one million more births than deaths every five weeks." In addition, there are still six hundred million people in China living on less than two dollars a day.
Scholarly and official estimates of current overall Chinese fertility (the average number of children a woman has over a lifetime) vary over a wide range, from about 1.3 to 2.0:
A 1999 article in Population Research, China's flagship demographic journal, stated that China's total fertility rate is probably somewhere between 1.8 and 2.0. Some also believe that the estimate of reduced population size is exaggerated and suggest the real impact is closer to 50-60 million.
Studies by Chinese demographers, funded in part by the UN Fund for Population Activities, showed that combining poverty alleviation and health care with relaxed targets for family planning was more effective at reducing fertility than vigorous enforcement of very ambitious fertility reduction targets. In 1988, Zeng Yi and professor T. Paul Schultz of Yale University discussed the effect of the transformation to the market on Chinese fertility, arguing that the introduction of the contract responsibility system in agriculture during the early 1980s weakened family planning controls during that period. However, by the late 1980s, economic costs and incentives created by the contract system were already reducing the number of children farmers wanted. Zeng contended that the "big cooking pot" system of the Peoples' Communes had insulated people from the costs of having many children.
It is reported that the focus of China on population control helps provide a better health service for women and a reduction in the risks of death and injury associated with pregnancy. At family planning offices, women receive free contraception and pre-natal classes. Help is provided for pregnant women to closely monitor their health. In various places in China, the government rolled out a ‘Care for Girls’ program, which aims at eliminating cultural discrimination against girls in rural and underdeveloped areas through subsidies and education.
Attitudes to child-bearing are also reported to have been affected by the one child policy. Some people have accepted the policy and consider that one child is enough. It is also reported that some Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Wuhan, have seen negative population growth, although some argue this may be statistical error.
The individual savings rate has increased since the introduction of the One Child Policy. This has been partially attributed to the policy in two respects. First, the average Chinese household expends fewer resources, both in terms of time and money, on children, which gives many Chinese more money with which to invest. Second, since young Chinese can no longer rely on children to care for them in their old age, there is an impetus to save money for the future.
A second type of criticism has come from those who acknowledge the challenges stemming from China's high population growth but believe that less intrusive options could have achieved the same results over an extended period of time. Susan Greenhalgh's (2003) recent review of the policy-making process behind the adoption of the OCPF shows that some of these alternatives were known but not fully considered.
A third criticism suggests that the reduction in the total fertility rate has been too dramatic. As Hasketh, Lu, and Xing observe: "[T]he policy itself is probably only partially responsible for the reduction in the total fertility rate. The most dramatic decrease in the rate actually occurred before the policy was imposed. Between 1970 and 1979, the largely voluntary "late, long, few" policy, which called for later childbearing, greater spacing between children, and fewer children, had already resulted in a halving of the total fertility rate, from 5.9 to 2.9. After the one-child policy was introduced, there was a more gradual fall in the rate until 1995, and it has more or less stabilized at approximately 1.7 since then. These researchers note further that China could have expected a continued reduction in its fertility rate just from continued economic development, had it kept to the previous policy. For comparison, both India and China had total fertility rates (TFR) of about six children per woman in 1950. India's TFR dropped much more slowly than China's before 1990, to about 4.0, and is now 2.8.
In 2002, China outlawed the use of physical force to make a woman submit to an abortion or sterilization, but it is not entirely enforced. In the execution of the policy, many local governments still demand abortions if the pregnancy violates local regulations.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) funding for this policy is heavily criticized in the United States. The United States Congress pulled out of the UNFPA during the Reagan years, and U.S. President George W. Bush referred to human rights abuses as his reason for stopping the US$40 million payment to the UNFPA in early 2002. In early 2003 the U.S. State Department issued a press release stating that they would not continue to support the UNFPA in its present form because they believed that, at the very least, coercive birth limitation practices were not being properly addressed. The U.S. government has stated that the right to "found a family" is protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This, coupled with the International Conference on Population and Development's view that it is the right of the individual, not the state, to determine the number of children, represents a clear conflict between China's policy and U.S. accepted and adopted human rights conventions.
Besides the extreme methods such as forced abortion adopted in the execution of one child policy, some critics also point to the possible economic and emotional costs the policy may bring to the people. A U.S. official named Dewey testified that parents who bear a second child are required to pay a "social compensation fee", which ranges from half of the local average annual income to ten times that.
Some parents may over-indulge their only-child. The media referred to the indulged children in one-child families as "little emperors". Since the 1990s, some people worry this will result in a higher tendency toward poor social communication and cooperation skills among the new generation, as they have no siblings at home. However, no social studies have investigated the ratio of these over-indulged children and to what extent they are indulged. With the first generation of one-child policy children (those born in the 1980s) reaching adulthood, such worries are reduced.
However, some 30 delegates called on the government in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in March 2007 to abolish the one-child rule because they believe "it creates social problems and personality disorders in young people." and "It is not healthy for children to play only with their parents and be spoiled by them: it is not right to limit the number to two, either." The proposal was prepared by Ye Tingfang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who suggested that the government at least restore the previous rule that allowed couples to have up to two children. According to this scholar, "the one-child limit is too extreme. It violates nature’s law and, in the long run, will lead to mother nature’s revenge.
However, some defenders of the policies have argued that labeling such genetic testing policies as Nazi-style eugenics is inaccurate and based on biased translations of the Chinese policy of healthy birth policy "yousheng." According to a UNESCO debate, Chinese genetic testing is conducted with the consent of the individual and is not based on racist or sinocentric attitudes.
According to the website Uygur.org, another aspect of the policy is its alleged "forced intermarriage" policy. The government has sent Chinese girls to marry Uyghur men since 1990. These Uyghur men were forcibly separated from their Uyghur wives and were forced to marry Chinese girls. Heavy fines exist if an Uyghur man attempts divorce from his Chinese wife.
Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute argued that statism caused economic, environmental and food shortage. He suggested free market capitalism is the solution for overpopulation problems. He cited that "Reagan had it right when he declared 15 years ago that economic growth is 'the best contraceptive.' The UNFPA is at best irrelevant to economic development and probably a deterrent. To help women and children in the developing world, the United States should be exporting capitalism, not condoms."
Stephen Mosher of the "pro-life" Population Research Institute has argued that "Demographers have no conception of overpopulation ... The world today could feed about 12 to 14 billion people. He further claimed that China used propaganda and brainwashing to encourage its citizens to agree to abort their child. Referring to Mao Zedong's failure of the Great Leap Forward, he argued that it is government mismanagement and government intervention that led to famine and shortage of food. Mosher further declared that one child policy hinders China's economic development.
This outcome was not something that the Chinese government wanted. Further, the policy was resisted especially in rural communities. In the face of such resistance, the policy would have required more drastic measures than the Chinese government was willing to be seen using. This led to criticism of China from population advocates such as Garrett Hardin who argued China needs to more strictly enforce the one-child policy.
The commonly accepted explanation for son preference is that sons in rural families may be thought to be more helpful in farm work. Both rural and urban populations have economic and traditional incentives, including widespread remnants of Confucianism, to prefer sons over daughters. Sons are preferred as they provide the primary financial support for the parents in their retirement, and a son's parents typically are better cared for than his wife's. In addition, Chinese traditionally view that daughters, on their marriage, become primarily part of the groom's family.
However, other Asian regions also have higher than average ratios, including Taiwan (110:100) and South Korea (108:100), which do not have a family planning policy, though still lower than that of China. Many studies have explored the reason for the gender-based birthrate disparity in China as well as other countries. A study in 1990 attributed the high preponderance of reported male births in mainland China to four main causes: diseases which affect females more severely than males; the result of widespread under-reporting of female births; the illegal practice of sex-selective abortion made possible by the widespread availability of ultrasound; and finally, acts of child abandonment and infanticide. It can be argued that the preference of boys over girls has been amplified by the implementation of the policy; however, given the multiple factors that may produce such sex ratios, it is inappropriate to attribute the ratios directly to the policy.
In a recent paper, Emily Oster (2005) proposed a biological explanation for the gender imbalance in Asian countries, including China. Using data on viral prevalence by country as well as estimates of the effect of hepatitis on sex ratio, Oster claimed that Hepatitis B could account for up to 75% of the gender disparity in China.
However, Monica Das Gupta (2005) has shown that "whether or not females 'go missing' is determined by the existing sex composition of the family into which they are conceived. Girls with no older sisters have similar chances of survival as boys. However, girls conceived in families that already have a daughter experience steeply higher probabilities of being aborted or of dying in early childhood. Gupta claims that cultural factors provide the overwhelming explanation for the "missing" females.
The disparity in the sex ratio at birth increases dramatically after the first birth, for which the ratios remained steadily within the natural baseline over the 20 year interval between 1980 and 1999. Thus, a large majority of couples appear to accept the outcome of the first pregnancy, whether it is a boy or a girl. However, if the first child is a girl, and they are able to have a second child, then a couple may take extraordinary steps to assure that the second child is a boy. If a couple already has two or more boys, however, the sex ratio of higher parity births swings decidedly in a feminine direction.
This demographic evidence indicates that while families highly value having male offspring, a secondary norm of having a girl or having some balance in the sexes of children often comes into play. For example, Zeng Yi et al. (1993) reported a study based on the 1990 census in which they found sex ratios of just 65 or 70 boys per 100 girls for high parity births in families that already had two or more boys. A study by Barbara Anderson and Brian Silver (1995) found a similar pattern among both Han and non-Han nationalities in Xinjiang Province: a strong preference for girls in high parity births in families that had already borne two or more boys.
However, high sex ratios (boy to girl) in the current population of China do not occur only in rural areas. Hasketh et al. (2005) show that the ratio is nearly identical in rural and urban areas.
The review article argues that a human rights perspective is important.
While these views are not mainstream or government policy in China, that they could appear in the lead demography journal is intriguing.
The authors of another review article "Girl Survival in China: History, Present Situation and Prospects" presented at a 2005 conference supported by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) concluded that "The Chinese government has already set the goal of achieving a normal gender ratio at birth by 2010, and to achieve preliminary results in establishing a new cultural outlook on marriage and having children. The government is working to change the system, way of thinking and other obstacles to attacking the root of the problem. Only if equality of males and females is strongly promoted ... will the harmonious and sustainable development of society be possible.
The practice of adopting out unwanted girls is consistent with both the son preference of many Chinese couples and the findings of Zeng Yi et al. (1993) and Anderson and Silver (1995) that under some circumstances families have a preference for girls, in particular when they have already satisfied their goals for sons. Recent research by Weiguo Zhang (2006) on child adoption in rural China also reveals increasing receptivity to adopting girls, including by infertile and childless couples.
Gender-selected abortion, abandonment, and infanticide are illegal in China. Despite the Chinese legal position, the US State Department, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and the human rights organization Amnesty International have all declared that China's family planning programs contribute to incidences of infanticide.
In August 2007, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that the new documents, even assuming that they are genuine, reflect only "general birth planning policies [...] that do not specifically show any likelihood that [...] Chinese nationals will be persecuted as a result of the birth of a second child in the United States."