Costly legacy for the spoilt Little Emperors

by on October 2, 2010

in Articles

Ice creams and piano lessons, designer sneakers and a flat of their own: these are some of the extras that China’s only children receive from their doting families. The one-child policy has created a generation of Little Emperors.

They are at the core of what is known as the 4-2-1 phenomenon of four grandparents, two parents and one child. The children, some now in their early thirties, have been pampered since birth. If a child cries, the response of two parents and four doting grandparents is to rush out and buy something — a hamburger or perhaps a toy embossed with a picture of the latest cartoon craze character, the doe-eyed “Pleasant Goat”.

One result is a generation of spoilt brats. But there are far more serious consequences.

Abortions of female foetuses mean there are many more boys than girls. Within a decade 40 million young men will be unable to find a bride. The Government says it will take at least 15 years to correct the distortion. Already child theft is a huge problem in China. Infant boys are stolen for sale to parents wanting a boy, but little girls are also prized, bought by parents as the future wife for an only son they know may never find a girlfriend. Men, particularly those in poor rural areas, are smuggling in wives from nearby states such as Vietnam, Burma and Cambodia.

When Deng Xiaoping implemented this strict birth control policy to try to arrest a population explosion encouraged by Chairman Mao and that threatened to keep China for ever poor, he probably never imagined there would be so many more boys than girls. He may also not have anticipated a population so top-heavy with elderly people who will have to be supported by a lone child or grandchild. The burden could be economically crippling for these spoilt Little Emperors.

Worse, it means that everyone has to save for their old age and so dare not consume, thus stifling demand just as the economy is reducing its reliance on exports and battling to boost domestic consumption. Chinese people need to start having two children.

Jane Macartney – China Correspondent - The Times

Family planning authorities in China are considering the most sweeping liberalisation yet of their strict birth-control policies, and may relax rules in several provinces as early as next year. Pilot projects would allow couples where one partner is an only child to have two children — a significant shift from the current “one couple, one child” policy, analysts told The Times. He Yafu, an independent demographer, said that the Family Planning Commission (FPC) appeared to have approved the trials for three provinces in the north east, Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning; and two in the south, Zhejiang and Jiangsu.

Liang Zhongtang, a retired demography expert, said that the provinces were suitable because of their strong economies and successful family planning policies. He said that liberalisation was long overdue but was certain to face strong opposition from conservative policymakers who head the FPC.

Since the birth control policy was introduced 30 years ago, Mr Liang has warned that it would lead to a shortage of labour and an ageing population. China’s population has swollen to 1.3 billion, but officials say that the restrictions introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1980 can be credited with preventing 400 million births just as the impoverished nation began market reforms that have transformed it into the world’s second-largest economy.

Many exceptions to the one-child policy are already allowed. Farmers can have a second child if their first is a girl and in most big cities couples who are both only children are encouraged to have two babies. Most ethnic minorities are also free to have as many children as they want.

Mr He said fierce debate over the value of the one-child policy, given a widening gender imbalance, was under way among scholars as well as in the commission. This has led towards a consensus on the need to experiment with different policies. The relaxation could be introduced once results of a population census that began last month have been compiled early next year, Mr He said.

The pilot projects could be extended in 2012 to the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin and then nationwide, depending on the results. Mr He said: “China now has a gender imbalance of 120 boys to every 100 girls and this is a very serious problem. It will have 40 million men who cannot find wives.”

The demographer has long been an advocate of a more liberal policy. However, Mr Liang cautioned that relaxing the policy would not solve the most pressing problem — that China’s population will be the world’s first to grow old before it grows rich. “At the very most, this policy will involve only a few tens of millions of couples in a country of more than 1.3 billion people. It is almost meaningless,” he said.

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