Zheng Zizhen, a demographer at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences (GASS), says even a modest change would help. “Every couple, in Guangdong and all over China, should be able to have two children. But before we take a second step or a third step in that direction, we need to at least take a first step like this one.”
Most demographers think the one-child policy has imposed huge costs on the country. The 2010 census showed that population growth was even slower than expected, rising just 0.57% a year over the past decade. The policy has caused conflicts with ordinary people and been a target of intense foreign criticism, worries Peng Peng of GASS (who nevertheless worries about relaxing it too fast). The costs were highlighted recently by revelations of a long-running scandal in Hunan province, where officials are accused of brutalising parents who violate the policy by confiscating “illegal” babies and putting them up for sale in the adoption market.
In its leader to the issue, the Economist opines that this may indicate some softening of attitudes about the one-child policy, especially taking into consideration the enormous age structure and gender imbalance implications that are now in place. In the end, however, there seems to be little chance of change in the near-term:
Few expect significant reforms soon. The family-planning bureaucracy is a vast and entrenched interest group defending the status quo at all levels of government. Senior officials fear that any change would unleash a population boom, despite predictions to the contrary by most experts. With only a year to go until China’s first leadership change in a decade, no high-level figure in the central government is likely to back significant changes now. “If the government has political reasons for not being able to change the policy, then there is nothing I can do,” says Zheng Zizhen. “I can only say that from a scientific point of view, it is clear the policy needs to change.” Guangdong thinks so, too.Note, by the way, that the article has a good map showing the different provincial levels of strictness with respect to the one-child policy.