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China’s One-Child Policy 40 Years Later: How Women are Still Suffering

In 1976, the Chinese government sought to solve its rapid population growth problem with the one-child policy, a restriction that limited families to having just one child. Now, almost 50 years later, women and young girls in the country are still the primary residents affected by its implementation.

One Child Nation is a documentary from Chinese filmmakers Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, two women who grew up when the one-child policy was first strictly implemented. The film focuses on the more personal effects the policy had on families, including young girls like Wang who were shamed solely for their gender. Chinese officials called it a socioeconomic success for the country, but Wang refers to it as a “war on individuals.” 

The documentary examines the psychological impacts of the policy on Chinese residents. It reveals just how heavily propaganda played into the government’s narrative of “family planning,” and how it influenced potential parents to subconsciously favor boys over girls. 

Preference for baby boys still exists, and is most common in  rural parts of the country. Boys are expected to ensure economic stability and to continue family legacies. The evidence of this preference is obvious in the country’s high rate of female infancticide, or the killing of baby girls. Hundreds of thousands of baby girls have been carelessly abandoned by their parents, and they are typically referred to as “China’s Missing Daughters.

The one-child policy also had a significant impact on mothers. Women were often kidnapped and forced to undergo late abortions and sterilizations when found out to be pregnant by the Chinese government. After having a child, they were discouraged from having more by being stripped of their financial resources. According to survey results from a Chinese job recruitment agency, 33 percent of women suffered a pay cut after having a child and 36 percent were demoted. If mothers were discovered with more than one child, they were forced to pay a fine roughly five times more than the average family’s salary. If unable to pay, they would be forced out of their homes.

The policy has led to a largely skewed gender ratio. According to recent census data, there is a 300 million surplus of males in China, contributing to the most extreme shortage of women since World War I. That surplus accounts for the country’s increased crime rate, with violent crimes most often committed by young unmarried men. Additionally, the growing demand for wives for these young men has led to an increase in human trafficking and trade. This directly affects the women in neighboring countries

Although the policy expanded to two children per family a few years ago, generations of women in China will continue to be affected by this restriction.

Featured Image V.T. Polywoda on Flickr

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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