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Travel Guides – China’s ‘one-child policy’ left at least 1 million bereaved parents childless and alone in old age, with no one to take care of them



A baby’s dying is devastating to all parents. But for Chinese parents, dropping an solely youngster can add monetary wreck to emotional devastation.


That’s one conclusion of a research project on parental grief I’ve conducted in China since 2016.


From 1980 to 2015, the Chinese authorities restricted {couples} to one youngster solely. I’ve interviewed over 100 Chinese parents who began their households throughout this era and have since misplaced their solely youngster – whether or not to sickness, accident, suicide or homicide. Having handed reproductive age at the time of their youngster’s dying, these {couples} had been unable to have one other youngster.

In 2015, the Chinese authorities raised the beginning restrict to two, an effort to reverse declining birthrates and to rejuvenate an aging population. In May 2021, it introduced that Chinese households may have up to three kids.

The new “three-child policy” acquired usually lukewarm responses in China. Many Chinese {couples} say they like not to have multiple children due to the rising value of youngster rearing, how it might complicate girls’s skilled aspirations and declining choice for a son.

The childless parents I interviewed informed me they felt forgotten as their authorities strikes additional away from the beginning-planning coverage that left them bereaved, alone and precarious in their old age – in a rustic the place children are the main safety net for the elderly.

Having and dropping an solely youngster

China’s one-youngster coverage was an enormous social engineering undertaking launched to decelerate speedy inhabitants progress and assist financial improvement efforts.

Until the early Nineteen Seventies, most Chinese girls had at least five children. By 1979, China’s inhabitants had practically reached 1 billionup from 542 million in 1949. The Chinese authorities claimed that the one-youngster restrict prevented 400 million births in China, though this calculation has been disputed as an exaggeration.

A mother wearing a straw hat pushes a buggy with a child sitting it. There are two other children walking near the buggy.

A mom sporting a straw hat pushes a buggy with a toddler sitting it. There are two different kids strolling close to the buggy.

The beginning restrict was unpopular at first.

“Back then, we wanted to have more children,” mentioned a bereaved mom who was in her 60s after I interviewed her in 2017. “My parents had an even harder time accepting that we were allowed to have only one child.”

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To implement the unpopular one-youngster coverage, the Chinese authorities designed strict measures, together with obligatory contraception and, if all else failed, pressured abortion.

Those who violated the coverage paid a monetary penalty, and kids from unauthorized births often could not be registered for citizenship status and benefits. Parents who labored for the federal government – and beneath China’s financial system, many city staff did – risked dropping their job if that they had greater than one youngster.

Several bereaved moms informed me that that they had gotten pregnant with a second or third youngster in the Eighties or Nineties however had an abortion for worry of job loss.

The one-youngster coverage, whereas painful, contributed to an age construction that benefited the financial system: The giant working-age inhabitants born earlier than and after it grew quickly in contrast to the nation’s youthful and older dependent inhabitants.

This “demographic dividend” accounted for 15% of China’s economic growth between 1982 and 2000, in accordance to a 2007 United Nations working paper.

An unsure old age

Yet China’s one-youngster coverage additionally created a threat for {couples}: the likelihood of turning into childless in old age.

A baby is fed by its mother

A child is fed by its mom

“Families with an only child are walking on a tightrope. Every family can fall off the tightrope at any moment” in the event that they lose their solely youngster, one bereaved mom defined to me.

“We are the unlucky ones,” she mentioned.

In China, the place the pension and health care methods are patchy and extremely stratified, grownup kids are the primary security internet for a lot of growing older parents. Their monetary help is commonly obligatory after retirement.

It is estimated that 1 million Chinese households had lost their only child by 2010. These childless, bereaved parents, now in their 50s and 60s, face an unsure future.

Due to the nation’s longstanding custom of filial piety, children also have a moral obligation to support their aging parents. Parental care is definitely the obligation of kids in China; it’s written into the Chinese Constitution.

This security internet doesn’t exist for parents who misplaced the one youngster the federal government would let them have.

Help, however not sufficient

Over the previous decade, groups of bereaved parents have negotiated with the Chinese authorities to demand monetary help and entry to reasonably priced elder care services. Those I interviewed mentioned that they had fulfilled their obligation as residents by abiding by the one-youngster rule and felt the federal government now had the accountability to take care of them in their old age.

A woman shows a picture to the camera.

A girl exhibits an image to the digital camera.

Eventually, the authorities responded to their grievances.

Starting in 2013, the federal government has initiated a number of applications for bereaved parents, most notably a month-to-month allowance, hospital care insurance coverage and in some areas sponsored nursing residence care.

However, bereaved parents informed me that these applications had been inadequate to meet their elder care wants.

For instance, grownup kids usually take care of their parents throughout hospitalization, bathing them and shopping for meals. Private care aides can cost up to US$46 a day, or 300 yuan, to do these duties. In areas that now present government-paid hospital care insurance for childless parents, most plans cowl between $15.50 to $31 – about 100 to 200 yuan – each day for a care aide, primarily based on my analysis.

Other individuals I interviewed apprehensive concerning the excessive value and limited availability of high quality nursing properties in many areas. China’s elder care services can’t meet the demand of its growing older inhabitants, and residing in these services isn’t coated by insurance coverage.

China’s controversial one-youngster coverage is historical past, however its legacy could rely upon how the Chinese authorities deal with the grieving parents left in its wake.

[The Conversation’s Politics + Society editors pick need-to-know stories. Sign up for Politics Weekly.]

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit information web site devoted to sharing concepts from educational consultants. It was written by: Lihong Shi, Case Western Reserve University.

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Lihong Shi receives funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.


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