Beijing: China`s one-child policy has
prevented almost half a billion births but has turned into a
demographic time bomb as the population ages, storing up huge
economic and social problems for the country.
As the world`s population hits the seven billion mark,
straining the earth`s resources, China can claim to have
curbed its birth rate to around 1.5 children per woman since
the policy was introduced in 1979.
Without the birth limits, which no other country applies
as rigorously or on such a scale, the world`s most populous
nation would have hundreds of millions more mouths to feed
than the 1.34 billion it has now.
But from modern cities to remote villages, its
implementation has involved abuses from mass sterilisation to
abortions as late as eight months into the pregnancy. Baby
girls have also been abandoned and killed.
Couples who defy the rule can face fines amounting to
several years` salary, have access to social services cut and
even go to prison. Their so-called "black children" have no
legal status in China.
Ethnic minorities and farmers whose first child is a girl
are exempt from the restriction and in some areas, couples
where both parents are only children are also allowed to have
a second baby.
But three decades on, demographers, sociologists and
economists are warning of a looming crisis as China becomes
the only developing country in the world to face growing old
before it grows rich.
China`s crisis is approaching "incomparably faster" than
in Europe, where fertility has fallen very gradually over the
last century, Paris-based demographer Christophe Guilmoto told
In the next five years the number of people in China over
60 will jump from 178 million to 221 million -- 13.3 per cent
to 16 per cent of the population -- according to the People`s
By 2050, a quarter of China`s population will be over 65,
the Commission for Population and Family Planning said,
compared to just nine per cent on Tuesday.
Already, half of China`s over-60s live alone, a situation
unthinkable before, when four generations would live under one
The upside-down pyramid -- whereby a single child
shoulders responsibility for two parents and four grandparents
-- is a major headache for the government, particularly as
unemployment rises, forcing more and more people to migrate to
cities for work.
Liang Zhongtang, a demographer involved in family
planning, said the pressure would grow as Chinese born between
1962 and 1972 retire.