As readers may know, the Chinese government recently announced it would amend its One-Child Policy into a Two-Child Policy. While many have been excited about the change, they’re celebrating with false hope.
The Boston Globe recently published a piece by associate professor and author Sarah Conly. The piece’s title, “Here’s why China’s one-child policy was a good thing,” as well as the title of her most recent book, “One Child: Do We Have a Right to More,” say it all.
Conly does acknowledge the forced abortions and sterilizations which occurred in China, but it’s mentioned so early as to get it out of the way:
Of course, China has enforced its one-child policy in unacceptable ways. Forced abortions and forced sterilizations are simply assault and clearly violate human rights. Still, the idea that people should limit the number of children they have to just one is not, I would argue, a bad one, for the Chinese or for the rest of us.
Note the “still,” because China’s horrible enforcement is not the main point to Conly. Her focus appears to be using a restrictive policy which amounts to a human rights violation to justify her argument that human beings don’t have a right to have more than a one or two children. Because the environment matters that much and is in such grave danger.
It’s one thing to express a concern for the environment. There can be healthy discussion and debate as to how much humans contribute to changing climate, and what the duty of the human race is to care for the environment.
It’s another argument altogether, one with dangerous connotations and ramifications, to say we need to care for the environment by restricting the amount of children we have.
Conly’s piece is objectively well-written. But for all the arguments and counterarguments it raises, it includes a sense of ignorance. Forced abortions and sterilizations are brought up once again, further in the piece:
If we say there is no moral right to have more than one child, do we pave the way for forced abortions and sterilizations? No.
No? How about yes? How else is limiting the amount of children we have going to be enforced? No birth control method is 100 percent effective. Unplanned pregnancies do happen. China is a prime example of how such policies, in the name of there being “no more right,” for the sake of population control, for the environment, of whatever else, that forced abortions and sterilizations become common.
The issue of gender imbalance is also not as simple as Conly makes it out to be:
Gender imbalance, too, is a serious concern. However, it isn’t the one-child policy that causes gender imbalance. The cause is, in a word, sexism, where a culture finds women to be less valuable, and parents subsequently find girls less beneficial to the family. We know this doesn’t have to happen. Fertility rates have fallen greatly in Europe and the United States without any gender imbalance. And other countries that do show an artificial gender imbalance don’t have one-child policies — there’s just a preference for boys. What we need to do is change our attitudes, not have more children.
It’s not just her ignorance which is frightening, but the casualness which Conly uses in being so determined to restrict births. She lists several suggestions to achieving that end result:
- “First, we can educate people about the need to have fewer children. “
- “Second, we can make it easy to control how many children we have. We could make contraception free and readily available.”
- “Or, we can go farther, and reward those who have fewer children, say with tax breaks. “
- “Lastly, if we ever did discover that we needed sanctions to get people to refrain from having an unsustainable number of children, they wouldn’t be physical in nature. Fines may be the best way to go, and again, there is reason to think suitable fines, fixed on a sliding scale relative to income, can be effective — not 100 percent effective, which no regulation ever is, but effective enough.”
It’s not that Conly doesn’t understand the other side. She does, and notes several counterarguments. At one she adds in a line of “natural, but dangerous” when she says:
It’s new for us to think of something as immediately joyful as childbearing as harmful, and it’s hard to change our ideas when we are confronted with new circumstances. This is natural. Natural, but dangerous. We’re in a different world, a world of 7.3 billion and counting, and we need to recognize that and act accordingly. The job of government is not just to give present citizens anything they may want, but to pave the way for a prosperous, stable society for future citizens. Any kind of one-child policy will be unattractive, but the alternative looks to be worse.
I can think of worse things than the “alternative” Conly fears, a lot worse things. We’re in a different world in part because Conly has created one where people and children are regarded in such an expendable, negative light.