Editorial: Two children, please
There have been mixed reactions within China and around the world to news that China has decided to relax its 35-year-old one-child policy, allowing married couples now to have two children, if they so desire.
The decision to change aspects of this policy of reproductive control imposed by Chinese leader Mao Zedong and implemented in 1980 is apparently driven by fears that an ageing population could interrupt China's economic progress.
The Chinese credit this controversial policy with preventing about 400 million births, saying it helped to lift families out of poverty by easing the strain on the country's resources. The Communist Party of China also lauds the policy for helping to stabilise supplies of food and water and improve prosperity.
Now with some 30 per cent of China's population over age 50, and a warning by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that China's workforce is going into decline, there is urgent need to replenish the workforce necessary to drive the world's number- two economy.
The announcement to relax the policy was made after a four-day summit in Beijing, where the Communist Party's top brass debated financial reforms and considered how to maintain growth at a time of heightened concern about the economy.
The one-child policy described by one commentator as "a textbook example of bad science combined with bad politics" was brutally enforced through heavy fines, sterilisation, loss of employment, denial of benefits and forced abortions. The tales of trauma endured by poor women who were seized by police after tip-offs and forced into late-term abortions, and the presence of menstrual monitors, were some of the negative aspects of this policy. Also, with the preference for a male child, China now has a gender imbalance.
At first, it was economic considerations that prompted the introduction of a programme to limit family size, and again, it is because of those reasons that this policy is now being relaxed.
Population growth and economic performance are inextricably linked. An economy that is expanding needs a pool of workers, both professional and skilled personnel, and it also needs consumers to buy goods and services.
Policymakers also understand that responding to the needs of a growing population can challenge a country's ability to manage its natural resources and provide the requisite social services. Given the events in China, one may question whether the government has the authority to place quotas on human life? Is it the business of government to regulate how many children people should have? What if an unmarried woman in China wishes to have a child? And suppose a couple in that country wants to have three children?
While we support the concept of planned parenthood, we believe women should be educated on the subject of fertility and given access to family-planning services so that they can exercise authority over their bodies and make their own reproductive choices.
This is why we are concerned that the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), created by the Jamaican Government in 1967, appears to be low on funding, as was revealed by executives in Wednesday's Editors' Forum hosted by this newspaper. For many years, the NFPB's slogan, 'Two is better than too many', reverberated all over Jamaica, with the birth rate declining from 34 per 1,000 in 1970 to 28 per 1,000 after a decade. These efforts should not be allowed to stagnate; rather, they should be revived.