In China, 21 out of 28 infants died while the One Child Policy was in effect.

At first glance, the one-child policy adopted by China seems to be the perfect solution for a lot of economic problems faced due to a population boom. But, as one delves deeper into the issue, all the flaws become obvious and downright frightening. Earlier, I had very limited knowledge of this policy. But after having studied about it (at school and my own personal research), I realize the implications it has caused in the past while it was in effect and also after it was scrapped.

A brief history of the one-child policy

The one-child policy was officially introduced in China in 1979. At the time when the policy was put into effect, the population of China was approximately 970 million and growing at a very fast pace. In the mid- 1970s, the government introduced the slogan “Late, Long and Few.” Every surface was painted over with slogans and poster promoting this policy. Theatre performances, shows, songs, you name it, everything was used to reach the audience and eventually convince them that this was the only way they could have a good future. If a family had more than one child they were met with a lot of criticism.

According to the UN, in the 1970s, 60 males per 1,000 live births died under the age of one. For girls, the figure was 53. By the 1990s, 26 males per 1,000 live births died before the age of one – and 33 girls. The 2000s saw 21 boys per 1,000 live births dying and 28 girls.

The Chinese government said that the policy has prevented 400 million births since its implementation in 1979.


Although the policy did improve China’s situation to some extent, on the whole, it proved to be detrimental to the country. Specifically, women who had to suffer immense physical, emotional, and mental trauma. In order to promote the policy and bring it to fruition, the government employed various techniques and methods.

People were offered incentives such as employment, higher wages, better standards of living, and even rewards. On the other hand, those who did not comply with the rules were required to pay fines. It is estimated that the government collected around 2 trillion yuan in the form of fines. People also had trouble finding employment in addition to the social stigma they had to face on a daily basis. 

Forced Abortions & Infanticide

Women were forced to get abortions or be sterilized. In the documentary, One Child Nation, directed by Nanfu Wang, an interviewee, a midwife, says that through the span of her career, she had been in charge of fifty to sixty thousand sterilizations and abortions. That is just one account from one person operating in a particular region, there are thousands of such cases in that time span. At times, women who did not agree to get an abortion were kidnapped and had to forcefully undergo the procedure.

Another issue was the preference for a male child. Boys were considered to be the pillars of the family, while female children would one day be married off to a different family and support them. This mindset led to female newborns being abandoned or killed. Traffickers sold the abandoned children to government orphanages. These children ended up being adopted by families abroad, mostly in the US. Approximately a total of 110,000 children from China were adopted into families abroad between the years 1999 and 2018. Families within the country were not allowed to adopt them.

Skewed Sex Ration & An Aging Population

The sex ratio in China in the year 2018 was 117 boys per 100 girls.

Another major consequence was the increase in the number of people aged above 50-60 years i.e. an ageing population. Fewer children led to a fewer number of people in the working age population.

The skewed sex ratio has in turn led to a multitude of problems.  After the one-child policy was abolished, having two children was promoted. There was undue pressure on women of age to get married and give birth at the earliest. But getting married was not an easy task due to the huge gap between the number of males and females (approximately 30 million more males than females).


The government finally decided to abolish the one-child policy in 2015, after almost four decades. But its effects are still visible to date. In the name of development and betterment, the then government violated multiple human rights of the citizens of the country. Since then, various organizations have conducted investigations and the policy has received heavy criticism from everywhere. Now, the people are doing their best to move on slowly even as the shadow of the policy looms large over their past. Despite being abolished five years ago, the policy has left an everlasting mark on the country.

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