Pro-Lifers Wary of Reports of a Shift in China's 'One Child' Policy

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

( - Pro-lifers continue to view with skepticism reports suggesting that China may relax its controversial "one-child" policy, as it comes under international pressure over its human rights record ahead of the Olympic Games, which it is hosting this summer.

Three days after a senior official in the government's population control agency first hinted at the possibility of a change, another state official commented on the policy. "The one-child policy was the only choice we had, given the conditions when we initiated the policy [in the 1970s]," the official China Daily quoted Wu Jianmin as telling a media conference in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Sunday.

But, he added, "when designing a policy we need to take into consideration the reality ... as things develop, there might be some changes to the policy, and relevant departments are considering this."

Wu was speaking on behalf of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a 2,200-member political advisory body that began an 11-day annual session on Monday.

He said the policy had delivered "very good results," having limited the size of China's population by 300-400 million people.

Last Thursday, the vice minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, Zhao Baige, signaled the possibility of an "incremental" increase in the number of children Chinese couples may legally have.

The policy seeks to limit Chinese families to one child, while some sectors of society, including rural-dwellers and members of ethnic minorities, are allowed more than one under certain circumstances.

Family-size decisions made on behalf of Chinese citizens are enforced by crippling fines, and population control officials have also been accused at times of compelling parents to have abortions and sterilizing them against their will.

Another consequence of the policy has been the abortion of unwanted baby girls, in cases where parents wanting a boy have used an ultrasound scan to determine the gender of their unborn child. After three decades, China faces not just a boy-girl ratio heavily weighted in favor of boys, but also a rapidly aging population.

As the proportion of the population no longer working grows, economists say, the number of working-age people who will need to support those in retirement will not keep up with the demand, with potentially dangerous consequences for China's socio-economic stability.

China's comments about the one-child policy come at a time when its human rights record is facing greater-than-usual scrutiny ahead of the Olympics.

Britain's Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, one of many pro-life advocacy groups that have been campaigning against the policy for years, accused China of making misleading statements, and some media of disseminating misinformation on Beijing's behalf.

"Experts know that the Chinese communist regime makes misleading statements about human rights when the international spotlight is on China, such as now in the run-up to the Olympics," said the organization's political secretary, Anthony Ozimic.

"Such statements are intended for Western consumption only and specifically designed to mislead Westerners into wishful thinking that the regime's crimes against humanity, such as the one-child policy, are coming to an end."

Ozimic was Western media should investigate the situation on the ground once the Olympics are over. "They will discover the reality of continuing forced abortions rather than the myths the communist regime has led them to believe."

Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, said any shift in the birth-limitation policy would likely be the result of "a combination of economics and concerns for public image with the approach of the 2008 Beijing Olympics."

Another direct cause, he said, could be the fact Chinese citizens are rejecting the policy. He cited violent protests against the policy in Guangxi province last summer, when thousands of people demanded they be reimbursed for fines levied for breaching the regulations. State authorities also reported last January that more than 93,000 people in one Chinese province alone violated the policy in 2007.

"Even a totalitarian state cannot suppress the deepest dictates of the natural law written in the human heart," said Euteneuer.

President Bush for the last six consecutive years has denied funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its links to China's population-control policies.

U.S. law prohibits funding for any agency that "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."

The U.N. agency says its projects in China encourage a voluntary approach to "family planning," and therefore help to prevent coercion.

See earlier story:
Olympics Link Seen as China Signals Review of 'One Child' Policy (Feb. 29, 2008)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow