For the first time in generations, China has lifted its drastic one-child policy, now allowing a couple to have up to two children together.
The controversial policy, which has been in place since 1979, mandated that Chinese couples could only have one child, a move that critics said skewed populations to be male-heavy and forced women into getting abortions or abandoning their newborns.
This is huge news in part because it is essentially a reversal of a law that was passed by the Communist Party in an effort to control China’s booming population of 1.4 billion.
As CNN reports, the party’s propaganda wasn’t always effective, and so the government then stepped in, forcing women to get late-term abortions or sterilizing them against their will. The government also fined families heavily if they had more than one child.
This is just the latest step China’s taken in relaxing its one-child policy. Last year, China allowed families to have more than one child if both parents were only children. Ethnic minority families were also allowed to have more than one child if their firstborn was a girl, with the reasoning that a boy would be more helpful with manual labor.
One of the reasons China has a serious gender crisis is that the culture favors boys over girls. A statistician predicted earlier this year that there are up to 119 boys born for every hundred girls, meaning that a large minority of the population will never get married.
In traditional Chinese culture, having a boy is an honor while having a girl is a burden. The bloodline is traditionally passed on through the males in the family, while a girl marries into a family, and remains a burden on her parents until she ties the knot.
While many humanitarian groups and politicians say the new policy was a long time coming, many say it doesn’t go far enough.
“Couples that have two children could still be subjected to coercive and intrusive forms of contraception, and even forced abortions — which amount to torture,” William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
The U.S. called it a “positive step,” but said coercive birth policies need to be stopped.
“We also look forward to the day when birth limits are abandoned altogether,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
There’s still a long way to go for families in China as they wrestle with these unique challenges of an aging population and an oversaturation of men. We hope that as the country continues to modernize, parents will view a child, whether it’s a boy or a girl, as valuable.
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