China won't budge on hated 'one-child' policy

Fierce rioting has highlighted mounting pressures to change China’s controversial population control policies, observers said on Wednesday, but the government shows no signs of buckling.

State media said security reinforcements and other officials had moved into 28 towns in the southern Guangxi region after thousands of residents clashed in recent days with officials enforcing the so-called “one-child” policy.

Though unusually large, such flare-ups were becoming increasingly common amid a policy that had created a host of social, economic and health tensions, said Nicholas Bequelin, Hong Kong-based research director for Human Rights Watch.

“These issues are not going to disappear. The family planning tension is one of the biggest sources of unrest in China, particularly rural areas, and it is here to stay,” Bequelin told Agence France-Presse.

The policies were introduced in the late 1970s amid fears population growth could outstrip natural resources and government services.

They limit urban families to one child while allowing parents in rural areas two children if the first is a girl.

The government claims 400-million births have been averted, helping to keep a population that is already the world’s biggest to 1,3-billion.

But with the traditional Chinese preference for male heirs still strong and parents seeking sons to support them in an increasingly competitive economy, an alarming sex imbalance has resulted as families have aborted females.

The government now predicts there will be about 30-million more men of marrying age without partners by 2020.

On the social front, concerns also are being raised over who will support a rapidly ageing population.

But the most immediate source of instability is heavy-handed enforcement by local-level officials who react brutally from pressure upon high to enforce the measures or seek enrichment through excessive fines against violators.

This commonly results in forced abortions, sterilisation, confiscation of property and other abusive practices, rights experts say.

In one of China’s highest-profile human rights cases recently, blind activist Chen Guangcheng was jailed in December for more than four years after campaigning against forced abortions and sterilisations by officials.

“When local officials implement population policies, they often adopt violent and crude measures in order to win political promotions and financial rewards for successful enforcement,” one of Chen’s lawyers, Li Jinsong, said.

According to reports, the Guangxi violence erupted after teams of officials fanned out to levy fines and confiscate violators’ property. Photos posted online showed some using sledge hammers to knock down homes.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of parents are stubbornly seeking to have more children, pointing to more confrontations ahead.

The state-run Xinhua news agency recently reported that more rural families were evading the policy while urban residents were increasingly able to pay fines that typically run at three to six times average local income levels.

“There is a growing debate among experts.
Some say China should immediately change the policy to meet the ageing problem and economic development,” said Professor Yang Chenggang of the Population Research Institute at the South-west University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu.

“No policy can last forever. It’s not a question of whether to change it, but when.”

The government, however, announced recently that the policy would remain in force at least until 2033, when the national population was expected to peak at 1,5-billion. - AFP

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