China's one-child policy is now a two-child policy

China announced on Oct. 29, 2015 that it would turn its controversial one-child policy into a two-child policy.

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China is about to get rid of its most famous and controversial law: the one-child policy. The Communist Party leadership made the decision to allow couples to have two children on Thursday. The announcement came at the end of a four-day meeting held to plan development goals for the next five years.

The one-child policy has been around since the 1980s. It was introduced as a means of population control — and it worked. The policy has successfully suppressed population growth by more than 400 million in China, according to government estimates.

Talk of ending the one-child policy began in earnest in 2012, when a 23-year-old mother was photographed crumpled over the dead fetus of her second child. She was forced to have an abortion because she couldn’t afford the huge fine for having a second child. The photo went viral on social media and caused some soul-searching. Suddenly, the subject was no longer taboo. Shortly after, a group of prominent Beijing businessmen released a statement calling for an end to the policy.

“After more than three decades, the problems with the policy are glaringly evident. While the government credits the one-child policy with aiding economic growth, demographers and economists say it is now one of China’s greatest threats,” wrote GlobalPost’s Benjamin Carlson in 2012.

Fewer young people means that the labor force will decline dramatically. At current rates, the workforce will shrink by 17.3 percent by 2050, according to UN figures — a disaster for the manufacturing sector, where labor is already in short supply.

The population is also aging rapidly. By 2050, China’s elderly population could more than double, to 438 million. With the average Chinese lifespan increasing, and the number of retirees booming, China’s pension system is also rapidly becoming strained.

Finally, the policy has resulted in China having one of the largest gender gaps in the world. For every 100 female babies born in China, there are at least 119 baby boys. This disparity means that a good portion of a generation of Chinese men will grow up without mates — a recipe for social unrest.  


“I’d prefer to die in Syria,” Khaled al-Nibeeti told GlobalPost, rocking his 1-year-old son Mohammed to a fitful sleep. The baby has been ill for seven days, but the family can’t afford to pay for transport to see a doctor or get medicine. “It’s better for me to die in Syria than live here.”

So al-Nibeeti plans to go back. There are thousands of people like him. They are refugees who are so desperate that returning to the war-wracked place they fled feels like the best option. They will be moving against a massive tide heading the other direction. And they will be walking into a country where multiple warring factions (including foreign countries) are attacking with little regard for the safety of civilians. 

This week al-Nibeeti will sell his belongings, speak with the UN refugee agency at the Zaatari camp, and take his family to board the bus to the border. It’s a journey with no return ticket and an uncertain end. Khaled knows his brother, who lives near Palmyra, will help him out, but he has no idea what dangers might prevent him from reaching his destination safely, if at all.

More than 100 Syrians have been leaving Jordan for home every day in recent months. They’re fleeing poverty, frustration and hopelessness: a humanitarian crisis that has dragged on for more than four years. With some 630,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, the resources to provide them with food, shelter and support have been thinly stretched for too long. Now, aid cuts mean the most vulnerable are struggling to survive.

“We’re not thinking about the future,” al-Nibeeti said. “We’re thinking just about how we live day to day. Here, there is no future.”  


There are endless stories similar to al-Nibeeti’s. The refugee crisis that has consumed so much of the world is cataclysmic. Fortunately there’s someone who has answered the call to help: The disgraced former prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, who was forced out of office by his own party.

Abbott, who must miss being one of the world’s most-ridiculed men, spent Tuesday lecturing European countries on the best way to deal with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. He said they should all just follow his example: Shut the borders and tow the boats back out to see. Let the exhausted and hungry find somewhere else to go. Or die at sea.

That’s what Australia did. Abbott called it the “only compassionate thing to do.” It could also be called inhumane, as most everyone else has called it. As is so often the case when Abbott speaks on the subject of refugees, he was roundly mocked on social media yesterday.