Ask people born in China since the introduction of the one-child policy in 1979, and they often say the hardest thing about being an only child is the loneliness. “There is nobody to share with. Kids the same age understand each other. Like ghost stories, that kind of thing,” said Gong Xue, 29, from Chengdu.
In China’s parks and leisure centres, a familiar sight is of the baby boy, often dressed as an army general or an emperor, surrounded by a group of adoring adults. They have every right to gaze: he will ultimately be paying for the parents’ retirement.
Couples who break the one-child rule have to pay a fine and lose education and health benefits. As it stands, only parents who are themselves only children may have a second child, but the policy is being changed to allow couples to have a second child even if one of them is not an only child.
The National Population and Family Planning Commission estimates that about 400 million births have been prevented by the one-child policy. Population growth has been curbed, and the projection of demographics would suggest that the time has come to end the one-child policy, or risk a shrinking working population supporting a growing ageing population in the next 20 years.
The way the policy has been enforced has prompted outcry in some areas. In June, government officials were punished after a woman in Shaanxi province was forced to abort a seven-month-old foetus. Feng Jianmei was abducted from her home by five men from the local family planning clinic in the township of Zhenping and forced to undergo an abortion.
However, change is unlikely to happen fast, and will be tried first in the cities, a government adviser told the China Daily.