China's One Child Policy Eased in Win For Human Rights

A nurse holding a newborn baby in the hospital

In a major victory for human rights, China announced on Friday that it will reform their infamous one-child policy and abolish labor camps. Relaxing these controversial and longstanding policies will allow Chinese couples to have a second child, and will eliminate China's notorious labor camps that have been a source of criticism and horror stories for many years.

Under the current one-child policy, Chinese citizens living in the city were strongly encouraged to have only one child. If a family had more than one child, the second child would not be eligible for state education, health care, and housing. In addition, the government levies heavy fines on the family for having more than one child. Under the new policy, couples will be able to have a second child without fines or decreased access to state services as long as one of the parents is an only child. The policy change will allow many more families to have a second child, because many citizens in China are only children.

Contrary to popular belief, many people in China have more than one child. The one-child policy is estimated to apply to just 35% of China’s population, and includes several loopholes and exceptions. People living in rural areas are often exempted from the policy, because additional children often mean additional income in rural occupations. Ethnic minorities and parents who are only children themselves are also exempted. Wealthy citizens who are able to afford private schooling, health care, and the hefty fines often have a second child. However, not many families have more than two children as the fines become astronomical.

The change was based on economic reasoning. The policy has an aging population and a shrinking work force. In addition the policy has created a massive sex imbalance in the country. For every 100 women born, there are 122 men. The hope is that allowing more families to have a second child will build China's work force and enable more people to care for the elderly. In addition, the ability to have two children may decrease the high rates of female infanticide and forced abortions that affect many rural areas of China.

The closing of the labor camps is also long overdue. The camps were started in the 1950s by Mao Zedong as a way to silence political dissent. Thousands of Chinese are imprisoned in these camps without trial under its "re-education through labor" system. Millions of Chinese have been sent to the camps and many have died from complications there such as being overworked and committing suicide.

Reforming the one-child policy and ending labor camps are promising signs for the second-largest economy in the world if they are carried out sincerely.