photo by Shreyans Bhansali (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Since 1979 China has more or less followed a government enforced policy of one child per family. It is a policy which dictates that urban couples are allowed only one child, whereas those in the countryside may have two – so long as the first child is a girl. Ethnic minorities, those with dangerous jobs and couples who give birth to a disabled child are also exceptions.

Has China’s radical one child policy – enacted by then chairman of the communist party Deng Xiaoping – been a global disaster or boon? Zhao Baige, vice-minister of National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC) and member of the Chinese delegation at the Copenhagen climate summit, claims that it has helped. From an article in China Daily:

As a result of the family planning policy, China has seen 400 million fewer births, which has resulted in 18 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions a year, Zhao said.

One result of this drastic law is that it has given China – and the world – 38 million more men than women. For every 100 girls born in China there are 120 male births.

In traditional Chinese society girls are generally valued less than boys and therefore often receive poorer care than their male counterparts. An official study during the 1990s estimated that this results in the deaths of 39,000 girls under the age of one year annually. Furthermore, many families pressure their daughters or daughter-in-laws into aborting their female fetuses, despite laws prohibiting this practice.

But China’s one child policy may be in for a rethink, due not only to the imbalance in population between men and women, but also concerns that an increasingly aged population will bring. From an informative article from 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled ‘The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years’:

In China this problem has been named the “4:2:1″ phenomenon, meaning that increasing numbers of couples will be solely responsible for the care of one child and four parents.

Despite some obvious short-term benefits, such draconian measures and both their intended and unintended consequences are difficult to put a positive spin on – however many tons of CO2 emissions they may have saved.

*This article is partly based on an article in the Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan.