One child too many - 27-year old girl forced to abort in China

By Daniele Pestilli on June 20, 2012
Officials forcibly abort the baby of Feng Jianmei, who was 7 months pregnant. Image credits: All Girls Allowed

Feng Jianmei, a 27-year-old girl from China's northwest Shaanxi province was recently forced by local officers to abort her seven-month old foetus after the married couple was not able to pay a 40,000 yuan ($6,300) fine for having a second child.

According to Jiji News, a team of Shaanxi province government officials were sent to investigate the matter on the 14th of this month. Government officials recognized that this act was a severe violation of the law and stated that the two top local family planning officials involved in the crime would be held accountable.

On Weibo, the Chinese Twitter-like service, pictures of the mother staring at her dead baby on a bed quickly propagated, causing popular indignation and resentment. The graphic image has been posted on the website of a U.S.-based activist group, All Girls Allowed.

Feng, who had previously given birth to a girl in 2007, was not legally entitled to have a second child due to China's one-child policy. However, late-term abortions are prohibited by Chinese law. Al Jazeera reports that upon refusing to pay the fine for having a second child, she was arrested and forcibly taken to a hospital by about 20 people who put ink on her finger, made her sign an agreement and injected her with an agent that killed her child.

Zhenping (Shaanxi Province, China)
Zhenping (Shaanxi Province, China)

On June 14th, Xinhua News reported that the city government of Ankang apologized to Feng Jianmei and her family members, adding that officials who were found to be responsible for the incident will be relieved of their duties.

One-child too many?

China's one-child policy was established by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 to limit the country's enormous population which currently stands at 1.3 billion, the world's largest. The law does not affect the entire Chinese nation, but is restricted to Han Chinese living in urban areas; minorities (such as Tibetans) as well as Chinese people living in rural areas are exempt from this practice.

Epoch Times Japan writes that from 1971 to 2009, there have been 300 million abortions in China due to the one-child policy, and there are currently around 7 million abortions a year. The pinnacle was reached in 1983, when more than 14 million infants were aborted.

Chinese authorities tend to consider the policy a success: population control has made epidemics, slums, social services and waste output more manageable, thus contributing to China's economic development. The one-child policy allegedly also reduces demand for natural resources as well as unemployment caused by surplus labor.

However, according to the World Population Review, China's birth rate of 1.4 children per woman has fallen below the replenishment rate of 2.1 children that is essential to maintain a stable population (exclusive of migration). Now, experts are concerned that the low birth rate combined with China's aging population could actually backfire and damage the country's economy. Furthermore, China has an abnormal ratio of male to female births given the historical and cultural preference for males in a household.

In comparison, Hong Kong's fertility rate is an astonishingly low 1.09 children per woman (as of 2011), Taiwan's is 1.16, South Korea's is 1.23, Japan's is 1.39, North Korea's is an estimated 2.01, and Mongolia's is 2.19 according to the CIA World Factbook.

In South Korea and Japan, these extremely low figures are said to be caused by soaring schooling costs. In countries where everyone pours money into their children's education, it is hard not to do the same: the trend of having just one child has taken root in South Korean and Japanese society. This may be hard to refashion unless new government policies are enacted.

The economic burden of having more than one baby is the Korean and Japanese permutation of the Chinese one-child policy, albeit a much more humane version: it has enabled the Asian Tigers to maintain exceptionally high economic growth rates, but is set to backfire tremendously in decades to come. According to Arirang News, Korea is expected to have the world's oldest workforce by 2045.

China is in a similar predicament. The Washington Post writes that China's population is predicted to peak at 1.45 billion by 2029, but will shrink thereafter. In the meanwhile, it's young workforce is already in decline. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote in a report, “China is a country in a race against time: the country can’t get rich before it gets old.”