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Ethical issues of China's one-child policy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4164 words Published: 18th May 2017

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The Chinese ideal of a family follows the Confucian belief that the family should be big and complex. The father is to have as many sons as possible so that the son can fulfill his obligations to the father and their lineage [1] .

The family is very important for the Chinese that they even coined the term familism which is "the basis of a kind of society distinctive from any other kind in the world" [2] . This means that whatever the members of the family are doing should be only for the benefit of their family. Because of familism, a Chinese couple feels compelled to have at least one male child. The Chinese believe that having a son will benefit them in many ways and one of these is to ensure that their family line would be continued [3] .

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The family in the Confucian view stresses the significance of hierarchy. Confucius also said that in a relationship, one should command and the other should obey. It is now known that the one who commands is the man or the elder, while the one who obeys is the woman or the younger person. The Chinese family is very paternalistic in a sense that it favors the men of the family more than the women [4] .

Unlike in the West, children in China were not as treasured by their parents. They were more of necessities for the families especially in the rural areas, so that they could help their parents with work in the fields. Sons were especially valued because of their ability to provide for their parents and to carry on their family name, something that the women can never be capable of doing [5] .

The men are also the only ones who have direct access to Heaven and they can perform rituals for their ancestors. The one who was in charge of the rituals is called the descent-line heir or the tsung-tzu [6] . For the Chinese, having a daughter would not be beneficial to them in any way because daughters would eventually leave them to join her husband's family. She would worship their ancestors and serve his family. Having a son would be an assurance to a family; that the son would care for his parents and stay with them even after he gets married [7] .

The men of the family would also inherit the property that is left to them, and there is no way that a woman would be allowed to become heir to what has been left by the ancestors. An example of this would be the opposition of Chu Hsi, one of the most influential leaders of the Learning Way Movement, in his Family Rituals that a daughter cannot inherit her parents' estate even when she had no (more) brothers. A woman, without brothers, inheriting the property of her parents was a Sung practice, but Chu Hsi emphasized that the males should be the ones inheriting the properties because if it were women, then "such property would be obtained 'inappropriately'" [8] .

Everyone knows about how China is becoming more developed and as a result, the population of China has been growing rapidly. China had to do something about the population growth because the government was not able to meet the needs of the citizens anymore. To add to that, death rates were also declining. The government had different programs to prolong a couple from having a child such as encouraging them to get married late. This policy was implemented to answer the problems of overpopulation. Couples who abided by the policy would receive incentives, while those who decide to have more than one child would have to pay the sanctions [9] .

China's one child policy was launched in the year 1979 by former Premier Deng Xiao Ping [10] . The main purpose of this policy is to stop the rapid population growth of the country that was clearly evident during the year 1949, when the population was nearly half a billion, the same time when the Chinese Communist Party was establishing itself and thought that this concern would hinder development [11] . The policy was not supposed to be permanent but because it was successful, they decided to continue implementing it. It was also not applied to all places in China. Places that do not practice the policy are Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and in total only about 40% of the Chinese population practice the one-child policy [12] . The policy itself is not fully unreasonable since it had a practical purpose of controlling the population growth which was certainly necessary at that moment. The only time it gets out of hand is when the Chinese norm of favoring sons enters the picture. The fact that a family has to have only one child is absurd. How can the government of China expect to control millions of families in the country? Is this even possible?

In the urban areas, people found it difficult to resist this policy because of their social and economic conditions as well as the strict ruling of their leaders during that time. However, this is not the case in rural areas wherein active resistance could be seen everywhere. This is because of their children's contribution to the typical Chinese agricultural family and "for their role in preserving the family line". Because of the unfairness of this policy, a lot of people resisted in three forms: first was when the targets confronted the implementers of the policy; second was the escape from the policy by either "deceiving rural cadres or colluding with sympathetic ones"; third was to appear to be complying with what the state wanted but defying them at the same time. This means that the state succeeds when the couple would obey the state's policy of having only one child (even if they want more), but the same couple would "reveal the influence of a counter-discourse that challenges the state's ideological claim to dominate child-bearing" when they practice female infanticide. Couples would then resort to ultrasound technology, wherein a rural or urban couple can "engineer the sex" of their baby [13] .

The problem of population growth can be seen mostly in rural areas since "80 per cent of China's population is rural and 87.2 per cent of births" occur there. The government tried to reason out with the peasants regarding the change in family size but they were not successful in changing their minds. By the year 1970, incentives and penalties were introduced as part of the two-child policy campaign. These were even highlighted during 1979, when the one-child policy was finally launched [14] .

Why the Chinese peasants preferred to have a large family is due to economic reasons. They felt that having a large family would bring more advantages for them, as compared to having only one child. The advantage would be that the family would receive "an allocation of grain distributed on a per capita basis". The same goes for the allocation of land that is why people in the rural areas can expand their homes when they expand their families [15] . Sometimes, these children would help their parents by gathering materials related to the maintaining of the land such as water and fuel. They would also feed the animals and weed private plots. These tasks could be done even by children, thus it helps the parents prepare for the more rigorous chores. Their children are also the only large-scale investments of the peasants because sons join the work force and they eventually have to provide for their families [16] .

The preference for sons is also evident in the rural areas because they continue their family line, whereas most of the women get married outside their village, live with their in-laws and join their labor force. This preference is also reflected in a survey conducted during the year 1981. The participants are those couples who had a second child. 42.61 per cent of the 1000 participants had one son and 57.39 per cent had a daughter. When they were asked why they had another child, 50.5 per cent said that they wanted a boy and only 11.4 per cent said that they wanted a girl. This clearly indicates that majority of the respondents prefer a son over a daughter [17] .

Because they had to, the people from the rural areas used different methods to postpone the creation of children. Some relied on the low cost methods of contraception such as IUD and the second method is sterilization. However, those with only one child have a hard time using this method because they would consider having a second child in replacement of the first one just in case the first one dies or becomes disabled. They do not take pills that much because it is more expensive and supply could be a problem for them. In some rural areas, particularly in Sichuan, vasectomy was used. Both men and women had more complaints regarding the side-effects of this method because the men claimed to be "losing their strength". However, this method became very effective because Sichuan was most successful in reducing its birth rate. There was also induced abortion, which was originally just a back up method and was not really meant to be an independent option for contraception [18] .

Despite the resistance, people still follow because there would be incentives and penalties enforced just to make sure that no one will go against the policy. Among the many incentives are a nutrition allowance, a full adult grain ration and free medical, educational and kindergarten facilities for the child. An example of the penalties on the other hand is the deduction of the couple's income by 20 per cent from the time the second pregnancy is discovered but this 20 per cent will be returned to them if they had the child aborted. There are times when a couple is allowed to have a second child. Among these are if the first child suffers from a disability that would hinder him from working or if both are overseas Chinese who have just returned from another country [19] .

The policy was more successful in the urban areas than in the rural areas. This could be due to the aim of the government "that 95 per cent of the married couples in the cities and 90 per cent in the countryside will have only one child" so that by the end of the century, China could limit their population to about 1.2 billion [20] .

As early as 1955, family planning was being enforced in the urban areas of China [21] . Chen Da, a pioneering demographer, emphasized that people who received education overseas would more likely have less children because they have a background on birth control [22] . The people from the urban areas were more open and accepting of the one-child policy because for one, there were efforts to raise the status of the women by letting them enter into the labor force. Child bearing and rearing are not the only things that a woman is bound to do with all the work that she has [23] . The Chinese from urban areas also see children as more of an "economic liability" because it requires a lot of effort, attention and resources (like money) to raise them but these children contribute little to the lives of their parents [24] .

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Different families have various practices or methods to get rid of a daughter. One of these is female infanticide or "the intentional killing of baby girls" [25] . The couple will resort to female infanticide to try their luck again hoping that they would get a boy the second time around (or kill the girl when the mother gets pregnant with a boy) [26] just so they could comply with the policy that was being implemented [27] . There are also hospitals in China that have "contraceptive technical guidance institutes". These institutes have lower level workers who are trained in the four operations which are "tubectomy, vasectomy, insertion and removal of the IUD, and induced abortion" [28] . IUD and sterilization are widely used in China; in fact, as many as 50 per cent of the Chinese rely on IUDs and sterilization is the second most widely used form of contraceptive method [29] .

Partly because of these methods, it became possible for China to control its people. Again, the motive of preventing overpopulation is not a bad thing. In fact, it would be helpful to the government so that it could rule the country better. However, is this inhumane policy the only option that they had? Is it really success that they are achieving? Would they call this successful when they know that there are innocent babies killed along the way?

The Chinese may have controlled the growth of their population but they are also encountering problems as they go along with their one-child policy. This policy has prevented around 4oo million births, according to Chinese officials [30] . Because there are fewer children that are born, there is an expanding population of the elderly. This is a problem because there would be less number of young laborers in the future when the elderly die [31] . Another problem is the ratio of men and women because men have been outnumbering women already by about 60 million. This imbalance between men and women would make it difficult for the former to look for wives; therefore they can result to human trafficking of women and children [32] .

The policy is even crueler because of the inequality between men and women. The government has been addressing this issue saying that men and women must be equal at all costs and that this equality has to be promoted through media. People who commit infanticide, those who neglect or abandon their children or any act that would harm people especially female babies must be punished [33] . If the government really means this, then they could already stop with the payment of fines for having more than one child and just have a law against female infanticide, or better yet just abolish the policy.

Unfortunately, the Chinese will still be continuing this policy in the coming decades to control the population growth in their country [34] . According to the official and minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, Zhang Weiqing, China will not make any changes for about another decade because it has been effective in controlling their population growth. Since China's population is growing by 17 million per year (according to China Daily as of 2008), abandoning the policy would have "major fluctuations in population growth". Officials said that the one-child policy was the only choice that was available and realistic at the time of the construction of the policy, but they are now considering amendments to it, but abolishing it would cause many problems [35] .

The Philippines is also experiencing an event that is quite similar to the policy that China has implemented on its country for a long time. There may be many people in the Philippines, but they are still able to live their lives normally because the resources are sustaining them. There would be no poor people if only there was equal distribution of resources to all the Filipino people. The church also claims that poverty is not because of overpopulation but is due to the irresponsible and corrupt government that the country has [36] , but what exactly is overpopulation? As defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary, overpopulation is "the condition of having a population so dense as to cause environmental deterioration, an impaired quality of life, or a population crash" [37] .

The option that the lawmakers are considering is the Reproductive Health Bill that "promotes information on and access to both natural and modern family planning methods, which are medically safe and legally permissible" [38] . The difference of this from China's one-child policy is the variation of the Filipino and Chinese mentality; that the former does not favor any gender because Southeast Asian countries tolerate both genders. The cause is the same-which is to control population growth, but the motive is different because while China intends to just control their population, the Philippines aims to eliminate poverty by controlling the population growth.

The cause may be reasonable but some parts of the bill are disadvantageous to the lives of the Filipinos, especially the Filipino women. Some institutions are supporting the RH Bill like the National Council of Churches in the Philippines or NCCP, saying that the Reproductive Health Bill does not necessarily promote anything illegal such as abortion [39] . However in the bill, it is said that women with post-abortion concerns will not be treated differently [40] . Does this mean that the government will still tolerate abortion even if they mentioned in the bill that abortion is illegal? Is what the NCCP saying about the bill not promoting abortion true?

Another is the mandatory sex education for elementary students [41] . Some parents have a difficult time explaining to their children about how they came to life or even talk about sex with them. Usually parents would wait for the right time to educate them about these things so that the child would understand better. If the law requires mandatory sex education, then these children will be more curious and try to experiment things and be exposed at a very young age.

Just like China's one-child policy, the RH Bill may have a good purpose but its execution and some of the policies in it are not beneficial. The bill promotes responsible parenthood [42] --but does this responsibility involve the choice between having the baby and having the baby aborted?

If there is the belief that the Philippines is overpopulated, then why not use this to our advantage? Why not use the money for creating jobs instead of spending so much on contraceptives (or letting the corrupt officials keep the money) that will not bring any benefit to a person's life? Our religion is also different from the Chinese. Filipinos do not see their children as economic liabilities because Filipinos are more emotionally attached to their children. The punishments in case of non-compliance stated in this bill will also have a great impact in the lives of the Filipinos who are compelled to comply with the provisions [43] .

Filipinos must be alarmed that there is so much poor people because the population is rapidly increasing that is why they are assuming that the country is becoming overpopulated and we need to solve this problem. However, the Philippines does not need the RH Bill because the country is not overpopulated. There is the assumption that poverty and overpopulation are connected, and by controlling the population, poverty will be reduced. According to Simon Kuznets, a Noble Prize Winner and author of Population and Capital Growth, there is no clear connection between overpopulation and economic development [44] . Places such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are overpopulated but still flourish. The population density of Taiwan is 1,460 per square mile but CIA's "World Factbook 1999" stated that "Taiwan's per capita gross domestic product is $16,500" [45] 

What the Filipinos need is a better and more capable government instead of implementing an unnecessary law. As for China, they are also starting to question their own policy [46] and because they are already having doubts, then it is best that they reconsider executing it for another decade. By doing this, China would cease to harm innocent human beings and prevent the Philippines from following the footsteps of China in putting something unethical into practice.


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