A think tank connected to the Chinese government is urging Chinese officials to reconsider its unpopular one-child policy. The suggestions included expanding China’s two-child limit for rural areas to other parts of China effective immediately, imposing a nationwide two-child policy by 2015, and phasing out all limits on reproduction by 2020.
The one-child policy was imposed in 1978 as a temporary fix for population surge, but many are unhappy with the large-scale results of China’s strict limits on reproduction. Social repercussions of the one-child policy such as stagnant economic growth, gender imbalance in the population, and a lack of skilled young workers to care for China’s aging population, have informed the decision to rethink the one-child policy. What is absent from the discussion about China’s version of population control, however, is the way that population control policies infringe on the reproductive justice of individual persons.
China is not the only country that has attempted to impose limits on its citizen’s reproduction, although their one-child policy is by far the most well-known. Countries like India and Singapore offer government incentives for families who have two children or less. While overpopulation is a global concern, the international community should also remain dedicated to the principles of reproductive justice.
Rather than imposing government limits on births, pushing sterilization on populations seen as undesirable, and giving money to harmful and useless abstinence programs, we should support global informed family planning education and access. This means every person on earth should know and have access to a full range of family planning options–from sterilization to condoms to IVF to abortion. While many policies may be less extreme than China’s one-child law, making sterilization–but not reversible birth control methods like the pill or IUDs–free in certain communities sends a message about who is allowed to reproduce and who isn’t. This is often discrimination based on race or class, but it also sends a larger message: Individuals cannot be trusted to make the right decisions for themselves, their families, and their bodies.
When Chinese policy officials want to phase out population control measures to stimulate economic growth–not because they understand that the government deciding how many children a family should have for them is wrong—we see that there are larger issues at hand. The protections of individual reproductive justice, “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights,” must be a priority of governments.
In the United States, we often fight for the right to not have children—through access to birth control and safe, legal abortion. We must also remember that there are structures worldwide that prevent women from the right to have children—and to decide the timing, spacing, and number of children that they have.
Many experts believe that the Chinese government will be hesitant to accept the think tank’s policy suggestions regarding population control. While this political and social issue is in the media spotlight, we as feminists must support the fight for reproductive justice by calling attention to the way that we talk about population control.
Written by Brenna McCaffrey
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