Two- child study quells fears of a baby b

Many res­i­dents in pi­lot area opted against adding to fam­ily, of­ten due to fi­nances

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COVERSTORY - By XU WEI in Yicheng, Shanxi xuwei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Twelve years ago, Su Meil­ing and her hus­band Qiao Wen­jie de­cided they would have only one child, even be­fore their son was born. They got a cer­tifi­cate for help­ing pro­mote the one-child pol­icy and re­ceived a monthly sub­sidy of 50 yuan ($8.20).

How­ever, the cou­ple changed their minds in 2011 and had a daugh­ter, even though, ac­cord­ing to the rules, they had to give back the sub­si­dies — more than 4,000 yuan in to­tal.

“We just real­ized one child is not enough,” said Su, 38. “If we had two, we knew they’d be com­pan­ions for life.”

Su and Qiao live in Yicheng, a typ­i­cal ru­ral county in Shanxi prov­ince rich in coal re­sources. It is one of four ar­eas cho­sen by the cen­tral govern­ment in the 1980s to test a pol­icy al­low­ing fam­i­lies to have two chil­dren.

In Novem­ber this year, a de­ci­sion was made to re­lax the one-child pol­icy across the whole coun­try. Cou­ples in which one part­ner is an only child will be al­lowed to have a sec­ond child, ac­cord­ing to a de­ci­sion by the Com­mu­nist Party of China lead­er­ship.

De­spite fears of a pop­u­la­tion boom, de­mo­graphic in­di­ca­tors from Yicheng sug­gest giv­ing cou­ples the op­tion to have a sec­ond child does not nec­es­sar­ily lead to ro­bust pop­u­la­tion growth.

Be­tween 1982 and 2010, a time span that en­com­passed the third and sixth na­tional cen­sus, the county’s pop­u­la­tion grew by 22.8 per­cent, from 254,000 to 311,000, com­pared with the na­tional av­er­age of 29.8 per­cent. In Shanxi it was 41.2 per­cent.

Yicheng has a gen­der ra­tio of 101.6 men for ev­ery 100 women, ac­cord­ing to the 2010 cen­sus, while the na­tional fig­ure for men was 105.2.

Liang Zhong­tang, a de­mog­ra­pher with the Shang­hai Academy of So­cial Sciences who helped fa­cil­i­tate the pi­lot pro­gram in 1985 and has mon­i­tored it since, said he has no­ticed a dras­tic change in peo­ple’s con­cept of fer­til­ity since the 1980s.

“The lessons we can draw from the pi­lot pro­gram in Yicheng is that a loose pop­u­la­tion pol­icy does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that the pop­u­la­tion will grow out of con­trol,” he said. “Plus, even though some ar­eas en­force a strict one-child pol­icy, the goal of pop­u­la­tion con­trol has not been met.”

Pro­posal ap­proved

In the early 1980s, Liang, who was then a re­searcher at the Shanxi Pro­vin­cial Party School, made the pro­posal to the cen­tral govern­ment to test his plan to con­tain pop­u­la­tion growth.

In Septem­ber 1980, the Party Cen­tral Com­mit­tee is­sued an open let­ter to all mem­bers of the Party and the Youth League, sug­gest­ing cou­ples should only have one child to keep the pop­u­la­tion un­der 1.2 bil­lion, to re­duce the mount­ing pres­sure on re­sources and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Liang dis­agreed with the one-child pol­icy, hold­ing that the coun­try could still ef­fec­tively meet its tar­get of keep­ing the pop­u­la­tion un­der 1.2 bil­lion by al­low­ing ev­ery cou­ple to have two chil­dren while de­lay­ing the age of mar­riage and the age they could have chil­dren.

The cen­tral govern­ment ap­proved Liang’s pro­posal and Yicheng was se­lected be­cause of strong sup­port from the county’s top of­fi­cials.

Liang ap­plied his test in the county’s ru­ral ar­eas be­cause giv­ing birth to more than one child was more pop­u­lar among ru­ral cou­ples be­fore the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy, and ru­ral house­holds are more prone to vi­o­lat­ing the pol­icy.

Be­fore the pi­lot pro­gram in Yicheng, Wang Yongliang, a fam­ily plan­ning of­fi­cial in Wangzhuang town­ship for about 30 years, said his job was “the most dif­fi­cult in the world”.

“Peo­ple were giv­ing birth to at least four or five chil­dren be­fore the 1970s, and all of a sud­den they are or­dered to have only one,” he said, adding that the pol­icy re­sulted in con­flict be­tween fam­ily plan­ning of­fi­cials and cou­ples.

“Ev­ery time you went to a vil­lage, peo­ple said, ‘Here come the gang­sters’. They would curse you be­hind your back,” he said. “If we knew a woman was preg­nant but al­ready had a child, we tried all means to con­vince her to give up the baby — tak­ing all the fam­ily’s pre­cious be­long­ings, trac­tors, cat­tle and giv­ing them back im­me­di­ately af­ter they agreed to abort the child.”

In 1985, when the county started push­ing the pi­lot pro­gram, many fam­ily plan­ning of­fi­cials were shocked.

“Some were con­cerned that grant­ing cou­ples two chil­dren would see the sit­u­a­tion get out of con­trol,” said Feng Cais­han, then deputy head of Longhua town­ship.

The pi­lot pro­gram stated women could not marry un­til they were 23 and men 25, and women could have the first child no younger than 24 and the sec­ond no younger than 30.

Fam­ily plan­ning of­fi­cials said al­low­ing cou­ples two chil­dren has made their work eas­ier, de­spite there be­ing more pro­ce­dures.

To en­sure the pro­gram had the

We just real­ized one child is not enough. If we had two, we knew they’d be com­pan­ions for life.” SU MEIL­ING YICHENG RES­I­DENT

de­sired ef­fect, women must have con­tra­cep­tive coils fit­ted af­ter their first child and must be ster­il­ized af­ter their sec­ond.

“We had a lot more work to do, as we had to con­vince peo­ple to have op­er­a­tions af­ter the birth of each child,” Wang said. “But im­por­tantly the pol­icy is work­able be­cause peo­ple are will­ing to co­op­er­ate.”

In 2007, the county fur­ther loos­ened the birth poli­cies and women could have their sec­ond baby no later than 28 years old.

“From the ex­pe­ri­ence in Yicheng we can tell that when the pol­icy goes against the will of peo­ple, the peo­ple will op­pose it,” said Feng Cais­han, who be­came di­rec­tor of fam­ily plan­ning for the county in 1990 and re­tired in 2002. “The pol­icy should take the sta­tis­tics into ac­count, and peo­ple’s feel­ings,” he added.

Chang­ing at­ti­tudes

Look­ing at the fig­ures, the pi­lot was a suc­cess in ef­fec­tively con­trol­ling pop­u­la­tion growth. Yicheng ac­counted for 1 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in Shanxi in 1982, but just 0.87 per­cent in 2010.

Mean­while, in many neigh­bor­ing coun­ties, the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy has faced a back­lash. Some cou­ples are even giv­ing birth to three or four chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial with the Yicheng Fam­ily Plan­ning As­so­ci­a­tion who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. The China Fam­ily Plan­ning As­so­ci­a­tion is the largest non­govern­men­tal net­work ac­tive in re­pro­duc­tive health, fam­ily plan­ning and HIV/AIDS pre­ven­tion and care.

De­spite be­ing given the chance to have two chil­dren, more than 10,000 ru­ral fam­i­lies in Yicheng have cho­sen to waive the right.

Liang Zhong­tang, the ini­tia­tor of the pro­gram, said he be­lieves im­por­tant fac­tors lie in the chang­ing con­cept of fer­til­ity since the 1980s.

“The key rea­son lies in the pro­found change of so­ci­ety, the way peo­ple live and work,” he said. “Peo­ple make de­ci­sions about the num­ber of chil­dren they are go­ing to have af­ter a re­view­ing their eco­nomic and so­cial sit­u­a­tion. That does not change with what kind of pol­icy is be­ing put in place.”

Feng, the for­mer head of the county’s fam­ily plan­ning bu­reau, added: “If peo­ple live in an agri­cul­tural cul­ture, it is nat­u­ral for them to have more chil­dren as farm work re­quires more hands. That’s why they pre­fer boys over girls. “Now, against a back­ground of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and ur­ban­iza­tion, it is nat­u­ral that peo­ple will choose to have fewer chil­dren.”

In Beiye vil­lage, 14 of its 17 cou­ples have de­cided to give up their right to have a sec­ond child and take the cer­tifi­cate for sup­port­ing the one-child pol­icy af­ter giv­ing birth to their first, ac­cord­ing to Xu Hong­miao, a fam­ily plan­ning worker.

Wei Hongli and her hus­band, Yang Wen­quan, de­cided to stop at one child af­ter the birth of their son in 1998.

“The cost of liv­ing is so high,” the 36-year-old mother said. “I can’t imag­ine what our liv­ing con­di­tions would be like if we have a sec­ond child.” Sun Ruisheng in Taiyuan con­trib­uted to this story.

POP­U­LA­TION CHANGE

XU WEI / CHINA DAILY

Su Meil­ing and her fa­ther-in-law play with her sec­ond child at their home in Yicheng county, Shanxi prov­ince. Su and her hus­band Qiao Wei­jie had the daugh­ter last year.

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