Big news today: The Chinese government has announced plans to relax the rules of their infamous one-child policy, which has limited most women in that country (with few exceptions) to having only one child. Under the new mandate, parents will be eligible to have two children if either parent is an only child themselves. Since the one-child policy has been in effect since 1979, a whole lot of men and women of child-bearing age are only children--so this change will affect a lot of families.
Although I'll admit this is a step in the right direction, I'm not exactly celebrating. Why? Because the very notion of "allowing" a woman to have one child, two children, or even ten children is a horrific insult to her human rights. I'd hope we'd all agree that a world in which normal reproduction is a crime is a very scary world. Each woman's body is her own, and the decision of how many (if any!) children to have should be a personal one based on her family's situation.
Denying women the right to control their own reproductive health in any way is not only bad for women, it's bad for families. Limiting women's access to birth control and information about reproductive health, as we've been seeing happen here in the U.S., causes more and more unintended pregnancies—nobody's going to stop having sex, it's a natural act, people!—which results in more parents who can't afford or who don't have the time to properly care for all of their children. Meanwhile, when you go to the other extreme and mandate that families are only allowed to have one child each, as they have in China, you see very different problems. Sex-selective abortions, in which more and more families choose to continue pregnancies with boys and end those with girls—have become quite common in China as a result of the one-child policy. The results of this practice are staggering: In 2012, there were 18 million more boys under the age of 15 in China than girls in that age range. As those men come of age, there aren't enough women to pair them with, which has lead to human trafficking, forced prostitution, and all kinds of other evils.
With looser guidelines that allow more families to have two children instead of just one, there are hopes that China's gender imbalance will even out a bit, but we're still left with the problem of the government trying to control women's bodies, instead of trusting them to make the best decisions for themselves.
I understand that the Chinese government originally implemented the policy to slow the growth of their population (it's the largest in the world), but there are better ways to achieve the same result without stomping on the reproductive rights and health of women and their families (and screwing up society as a whole in the process). More often than not, when women are given access to affordable family planning tools, they end up choosing to have fewer children, and they space their children's births in a way that benefits both the children and the family as a whole. It's time for China to nix the one-child policy altogether, and for the world to start trusting moms to build families when and how they see fit.
TELL US: Could you imagine living in a country where it was illegal to have more than one or two children? Do you agree that women and families should have more control over when and how to create their families?
Image of pregnant woman via Shutterstock.