The latest policy statement by the Chinese government, easing the one-child norm has ended an era. On 29 October, China announced that it would officially lift its infamous, long-standing policy. In November 2013, the Chinese government had allowed two children to those who were themselves single children of their parents. In 1980, in view of the problem of population explosion, the Chinese had imposed a condition of a single child for all Chinese, except ethnic minorities and rural residents whose first child was a girl. There is a general opinion that the Chinese government was under tremendous pressure due to aging population and a shortage of future workers.

While population growth was brought under control, the policy disturbed the demographic balance. It is notable that rate of growth of population, which was 2.09 per cent per annum in 1981, came down to 0.57 per cent in 2010. Population could increase only by 35 per cent in the last 30 years. During the same period, India&’s population growth declined from 2.15 per cent annually in 1981 to 1.64 per cent in 2011.

There are some demographic characteristics of a nation which deeply affect the economy and society; and these cannot be ignored. In these characteristics, ratio of youth population (that is ratio of population in the age group of 15 to 35 years of age to the total population) and ratio of old population (ratio of population older than 65 to total population) are more important. If we look at India&’s ratio of youth population to total population, it reached 35 per cent by 2011. Average age in India is expected to reach 29 years by 2020; as compared to expected average age of 37 in China. Today nearly two thirds of India&’s population is below 35 years of age. By 2050, the working population will reach one billion. In China, only 5.7 per cent of the population was older than 65 in 1981; in 2010 it reached 8.7 per cent.

These changes led to two types of impact on China. On the one hand, burden of social security for elderly increased and with fall in ratio of youth population, China lagged behind in comparison with India. India today is the nation with the largest youth population in the world. Today educated youth are not only making great progress in different fields, they are part of the large Indian diaspora that helps the country earn foreign exchange. India was the highest recipient of remittances from its diaspora in 2012, netting $70 billion, ahead of the Chinese who remitted $66 billion. It is this erosion of youth power that worries the China, and has now forced withdrawal of the one-child policy.

Rearing a child is a natural right of humans. Normally, people have children to perpetuate their line. Family planning and birth control are relatively modern concepts. India was the first country to have officially announced a policy of family planning in 1962. During the infamous internal emergency (1975-77) coercive methods were used to control births. However the way the one-child policy was implemented in China crossed all limits.

Women were subjected to forcible pregnancy tests by government health officials to rule out a second child. If a woman went ahead with a pregnancy, she was subject to a heavy fine. If she failed to pay the fine, she was subjected to a forcible abortion, regardless of the term of pregnancy. China&’s communist regime could get away with such excess.

Such rules and associated cruelty were only for common and poor Chinese. Among the rich, large families are common, as they can afford to pay the hefty fines or penalties. As per the rules of their respective province, the rich would pay 3 to 10 times of their household income for an additional child. Some rich people went to Singapore, Hong Kong or USA to give birth. It is notable that inequalities have increased significantly after the adoption of new economic policies. Whereas in 1990, there were hardly any dollar billionaires, the Forbes list of 2015 lists as many as 213 Chinese billionaires. The rich not only own assets and large houses, they were allowed large families too.

Naturally, this rule was cruel to women. Because of cruelty associated with this rule and other reasons, the suicide rate among women is highest in China. Most Chinese, like other Asians, want to have a male child; therefore sex ratio is constantly on decline in China. Today for every hundred females, there are 118 males in China. The relaxation in the one-child rule will cause Chinese to heave sighs of relief; of course the relaxation underlines just how intrusive the state&’s role in an individual&’s life is.

The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Economics, P.G.D.A.V. College, University of Delhi.