China: Public backlash over move to restrict abortions

China faces public backlash over move to restrict abortions

The policy was criticised by the public as a new form of government interference in people’s private family life

Representative Image. Credit: iStock Photo

The Chinese government’s move to reduce the rate of abortions needed for "non-medical reasons" has resulted in public backlash, with many seeing this as an intrusive measure meant to raise the country’s sagging birthrate as part of its three-child policy, according to a media report.

China’s central Cabinet, called the State Council, on Monday said it will “reduce the rate of abortions needed for non-medical reasons”, as part of its efforts to improve women’s health, according to a series of new guidelines addressing issues related to women and children in the world's most populous nation.

Though lowering the high abortion rate — largely driven by a preference for boys over girls — has been the government policy for decades, the Council's statement drew public attention immediately and was seen by many as restricting women’s rights amid an official drive to boost population growth to address the country’s ageing population.

The policy was criticised by the public as a new form of government interference in people’s private family life, after the notorious forced abortions during the implementation of the decades-old one-child policy, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.

Also Read | China says will reduce the number of abortions for 'non-medical purposes'

“It’s so funny that when they didn’t want so many people, they said fewer kids make you happy for the entire life, and when they wanted it, they said women should consider their health and avoid abortions. In the past, there were women who carried a second child being forced to get abortions, and now are they forcing people to get pregnant?” a user of Weibo (akin to Chinese Twitter) commented.

Last month, China’s national legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC) formally endorsed the three-child policy mooted by the ruling Communist Party, in a major policy shift to prevent a steep decline in birth rates in the country, which has a population of over 1.4 billion.

The revised Population and Family Planning Law, which allows Chinese couples to have three children, was passed by the NPC in an apparent attempt to address the reluctance of the Chinese couples to have more children due to mounting costs.

The amended law has also passed more social and economic supportive measures to address the concerns.

In May this year, the Communist Party approved a relaxation of its strict two-child policy to allow all couples to have up to three children.

China permitted all couples to have two children in 2016, scrapping the decades-old one-child policy which policymakers blame for the demographic crisis in the country.

Chinese officials claim the one-child policy implemented for over three decades has prevented over 400 million births.

Li Ying, a Beijing-based women’s rights lawyer, said amid the authorities’ diametric shift in family planning, it’s natural for women to worry that the authorities may now be imposing restrictions on access to abortions.

“The public backlash shows female citizens today have a better awareness of their rights. They want to make their own choices in terms of having babies, not be restricted by a law or regulation,” Li told the South China Morning Post, adding that “they have the freedom to raise children, and the freedom not to as well.”

The decision to permit the third child came after a new census this year showed that China's population grew at the slowest pace to 1.412 billion amid official projections that the decline may begin as early as next year.

The new census figures revealed that the demographic crisis China faced was expected to deepen as the population above 60 years grew to 264 million, up by 18.7 per cent last year.

As the calls for the government to do away with the family planning restrictions grew louder due to concerns that the declining population in the country could result in serious labour shortage, negatively impacting the world's second-largest economy, the ruling Communist Party of China, (CPC) has decided to permit a third child while declining to completely scrap the family planning policy.

"Data shows the ageing of the Chinese population has further deepened, and we will continue to face the pressure to achieve a long-term balanced population development," Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), said in May this year.

The two-child policy failed to enthuse couples to have a second child as fewer opted for the second child, citing heavy expenditure in raising the children.

The poor response made Liang Jianzhang, professor at Peking University's School of Economics, suggest to the government to offer parents 1 million yuan ($156,000) for each newborn child to shore up the country's declining birth rate.

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