The 1st of January, 2018 will mark two full years since the phasing out of China’s infamous one child policy. Introduced as an emergency population control mechanism, it was initially intended to be a one-generation policy which ended up being phased out 35 years after it was first enforced in 1979. While the socio-economic side effects of the policy are still being felt by the Chinese populace even today, some argue that despite this, the policy was successful in achieving what it set out to do, and cut down population growth in the country by an estimated 300 million people in the first half of its 35 year imposition.
The facts as presented above have sparked debate and discussion over the efficacy of such a policy, and whether one country in particular is in dire need of such Government-mandated birth control mechanisms. The country in question is, of course, China’s very own neighbor India. Currently home to approximately 17% of the world’s population which lives on only 2.4% of the world’s land area, India may fall behind China in terms of absolute population, but its native population is growing at twice the rate of its neighbor while its land mass is only a third of China’s. The problems with introducing such a policy in India are many. Many Indian critics of the policy feel (rightly so) that sexual (and in some cases, religious) decisions of this sort are personal in nature, and that the Government would be infringing on individual sovereignty and overstepping its bounds by interfering in such matters.
Assuming that the Government would be capable of dealing with such social backlash, the next hurdle would then be the smooth implementation and enforcement of the policy. Many question the practicality of such a move in light of the fact that the policy led to widespread corruption in China, with law enforcement officials accepting bribes in exchange for permits to have more children. Moreover, the issue is an even more pressing one in India, with Indian law enforcement and public service officials proving time and again to be prone to the clutches of corruption. The demographic of rural India is one which is characterized by a populace which is largely ignorant of the benefits of family planning. For a family, having more children means having to feed more mouths, and is an expensive affair in itself. Yet, this potential additional financial burden does little to deter families who lack this foresight from conceiving more and more children.
Should the one child policy be introduced, the Government will impose a heavy fine for every extra child after the first that a couple decides to have. This would disastrous for the hundreds of thousands of families in rural India who barely manage to make ends meet everyday, and would now be completely impoverished thanks to this added strain on their meager resources. The crippling effect of such Government-levied fines would no doubt result in a massive surge in the number of daily suicides, and also aggravate the already widely prevalent issue of child labor. Families eager to earn every last bit of extra income possible would immediately stop the education of their children (which is in any case viewed by rural dwellers as a bad investment of their hard-earned money), and force their children into doing wage-paying manual labor with time which the child/children would otherwise have been spent in school or studying.
Moreover, it would also result in a spike in the number of cases of abandonment of families by their respective primary bread earners (which, in the context of the Indian rural community, is usually the male head of the family). Families might also abandon their second child in order to evade the punitive monetary fine levied by the state. The biggest problem with the one child policy, however, is the impacts it would have on the sex ratio. The dowry system, which is still largely prevalent in rural India continues to perpetuate an obsession with male children, with girls born into the family considered to be a major financial burden on the parents, who now have to worry about dowry payments at the time of her marriage. Meanwhile, male children are considered a blessing – future bread earners who will also receive a dowry from their in-laws at the time of marriage.
It is not difficult to imagine what would happen if the rural Indian populace was suddenly told it could have only one child per family – couples would do their best to ensure that the child born was a male. The number of instances of illegal prenatal testing and subsequent female foeticide (and when that failed, female infanticide) would skyrocket. India, a country which already faces the problem of a hundred million missing women, would now have an even more pressing sex ratio problem on its hands, and this is precisely the crisis China is facing right now.
In conclusion, it may be stated that while the one child policy may indeed be successful in curbing population growth, the adverse socio-economic impacts of the policy far outweigh the benefits, especially in a country like India.
-Contributed by Prithviraj Tankha
Picture credits: economywatch.com