On this day in 2015, the Chinese government officially announces the end of its one-child policy, ending the most extreme state birth control project in history after 35 years.
Adapted from a two-child policy instituted in 1970, these extreme measures were deemed necessary due to concerns over the rapidly expanding Chinese population, which had ballooned from 540 million in 1949 to 940 million by 1976. Amid global fears of overpopulation, the Chinese government decided to limit families to one child each, although exceptions allowing for two children were common.
The government mandated intrauterine devices for women after giving birth to their first child, and women who had multiple children were frequently subject to forced sterilization. Families were fined for having more than one child. Enforcement of the rule was uneven across China, with exceptions commonly granted for couples whose first child was a girl or a boy who suffered from a disability. As such, by 2007 China Daily reported that less than 40 percent of the Chinese population was actually limited to one child. Still, the policy succeeded in dramatically decreasing the birth rate, which fell from 2.8 births per woman in 1979 to 1.5 in 2010.
The abolition of the policy in 2015 was not the end of state birth control programs in China—the government simply returned to the two-child policy that was in place before 1980. In addition to major criticisms of the state’s forced IUD and sterilization programs, critics also point to statistics that suggest the one-child policy led to sex-selective abortion, usually of girls in rural China, and of the abandonment of many children, also predominately girls. Overcrowding in orphanages became common, and families also complained of the “4-2-1” problem—for every four elders, there could now legally be only two children and one grandchild to support them in their old age.
The government’s reason for abandoning the one-child policy, “to improve the balanced development of population,” hints at the gender discrimination and subsequent gender imbalance that resulted from the policy. Nevertheless, many Chinese, especially women, remain bitter at the state’s treatment of families and its refusal to apologize for the one-child policy.
READ MORE: China's Vast History