By Gillian Wong, Associated Press
Updated – November 15th, 2013 @ 4:13pm
After a four day meeting of party leaders in Beijing, several surprising policy changes were announced which addressed deeply unpopular programs.
• The first significant easing of the one child policy in nearly 30 years
• Movement to abolish the labor camp system
• Opening state dominated industries to private competition
• Easing of limits on foreign investment in e-commerce and other businesses
A limited exemption to the one child policy has been provided by the party, families in which at least one parent was an only child will be allowed to have a second child. In 1984, the exemption was granted to families in which both parents had had been an only child. Also part of the changes made in 1984, rural couples are allowed to have two children if the first born child is a girl. The one child policy was introduced in 1980 and is widely disliked. Beijing maintains that the policy has been good for China by easing the strain on resources, and lifting countless families out of poverty, but it has its problems. The abrupt fall of the birth rate increases the average age of the population, the number of young people working to support the retiring generation is limited, and a long term gender imbalance all are caused (directly or indirectly) by the policy. Local officials forced abortions and sterilizations, even though these measures are illegal. Fines, seizure of property, and loss of jobs are all consequences of disobedience to the policy. Experts estimate 1 – 2 million more births in the next few years as a result of the change, but Chinese culture is shifting to acceptance of smaller families. The statement doesn’t address children which have been born in violation of the policy whose existence has been concealed and thus have no access to services.
The second big announcement from the meeting is the movement to abolish the labor camps. CCTV, Chinese state broadcaster reported that the nation has 310 labor camps holding about 310,000 prisoners and employing 100,000 staff. The system was established to “re-educate through labor” early critics of the Communist Party, and has been used by local officials to silence those challenging their authority on issues including land rights and corruption. Police are allowed to lock up defendants for up to four years without trial.
I graduated from high school in 1980, and while I was not the news junkie I am today, I did have some interest in events and I remember hearing about the institution of the one child policy in China. Some of the concerns I remember hearing about have prompted this small change in the policy. One issue is the tradition of Chinese families that it is the responsibility of the oldest son to take care of the parents in their old age. This led to a higher priority being placed on male children than on females. We began to hear reports of selective abortions, and the killing of baby girls after birth. This article doesn’t mention it, but I remember hearing that if a girl child was born, the couple would be allowed to have another in hopes of having a boy. As the years went on, it became clear that there would be problems once this generation grew to marriage age. Because of the preference for males, there are many more marriage age men than women. Good news for women, to be sure, but what of all the men who are never able to get married? And, as this generation ages, there will be a large number of elderly men and how will they be cared for if they were never married and produced no children?
The news that the labor camps will be abolished is, to me, truly amazing. The article is focused mostly on the one child policy, so it doesn’t give much detail on the labor camps. I was unable to find information on how soon this will begin to happen, how long it will take, and what might replace it. I remain skeptical that this will happen at all.