Chinese demographics have undergone a remarkable transformation
since the advent of the country's one-child policy over 25 years ago, a policy that has been strictly enforced. But sometimes the successful implementation of a policy can bring unforeseen problems, and many in China are beginning to bemoan the effects of the government's policy on children. In fact, some Chinese scholars and officials are alarmed that the declining number of younger workers will have to support an increasingly aging population. Cracks in the government’s policy consensus are being made evident by reports in the media that imply an official two-child policy might be preferable.
The one-child policy has never been airtight, for a multi-child policy has always existed for select groups. For example, ethnic minorities are permitted to have two or more children. Couples living in the countryside whose first child is a girl are allowed to have an additional child, while couples in urban areas are permitted to have a second child if they themselves are only children.
Despite these exceptions, China's fertility rate has plummeted, falling from 2.29 children per woman in 1980 to 1.69 last year. A population is only able to sustain itself with a fertility rate of roughly 2.1, so at its current fertility rate, China's population will begin to decline within the next 50 years.
The one-child policy has been fairly easy to enforce in cities, where authorities can keep a close eye on compliance. Noncompliance is severely punished. Fines can be as much as 10 times the average annual urban income, and workers at state-owned enterprises may be fired or demoted. Violators find that it is difficult to assure their unauthorized children admittance to public schools. It is little surprise then that few urban dwellers are willing to violate the policy. Compliance in rural areas, however, is more difficult to gauge.
While some violators receive harsh penalties, including corporal punishment and property seizure, others are untouched. Rural officials are apt to overlook infringements of the one-child policy because they recognize the need for peasants to have additional support when they reach their years of infirmity. With its hidden fertility rates and the concealment of children from census takers, rural China likely has ahigher population than officially recorded.