NPR's All Things Considered on Friday night aired a shocking piece questioning China's one-child population policy and the forced abortions that result when people try to go around the prohibitions.
Host Melissa Block said loud pleas inside China "come after gruesome photos of a 7-month-old fetus whose mother was forced to have abortion spread across the Internet last month. Increasingly, Chinese scholars say the government's population policy is not only inhumane, it's also creating a demographic disaster, one that will leave China with far fewer workers and more elderly people to take care of." Reporter Frank Langfitt told the story of Deng Jiyuan and his wife Feng Jianmei, who have a six-year-old daughter. After Feng got pregnant again, she was abducted and given a labor-inducing injection :
LANGFITT: We want justice, he says. I want those gangster-like officials to be punished. Then family members uploaded a photo of the dead child to the Internet, and the story exploded. Last week, the government announced it had fired one local official and punished others involved in the case. Deng says China's population policy is out of control.
DENG JIYUAN: (Through Translator) If the one-child policy was to continue, then after 100 years, there would be very few people left in China.
LANGFITT: That, of course, is hyperbole. China has more than 1.3 billion people. But Deng is on to something. Demographers and economists say restrictions on births aren't helping China but hurting it.
ZHENG ZHENZHEN: In the field of population studies, everybody think the policy should be modified.
JAMES LIANG: Well, it's actually a pretty absurd policy.
WANG FENG: Phasing out the policy should have started at least 10 years ago.
LANGFITT: That's Zheng Zhenzhen, a demographer with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; James Liang, a leading businessman in Shanghai; and Wang Feng, who runs the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing. Wang says the problem now isn't that Chinese couples are having too many kids. It's that they're having too few. Last year, census results showed what demographers had long suspected. The fertility rate is very low.
FENG: For each couple, the expected number of children in their lifetime is 1.5.
LANGFITT: That's well below the number needed to replace China's current population, and so Wang says this dynamic country - now widely seen as a world-beater - is fated to age very rapidly.
FENG: The magnitude of the challenge brought about by population aging is mind-boggling. China now has about 180 million elderly population. In less than 20 years, by 2030, that number is going to be 360 million. That's going to be larger than the total population of the United States right now.
LANGFITT: How is the country going to pay for that?
FENG: It's a very scary situation.
LANGFITT: As the population ages, health care costs are expected to soar. And with couples having fewer kids, there will be far fewer workers to pay for that health care. Again, Wang Feng.
FENG: I think the harm has already been done. So even if China, say, stopped one-child policy tomorrow, this new birth would not become adult labor until 20 years from now.
Langfitt explained that most Chinese now have no desire to have more than one child, which is another obstacle for those worried about the fertility rate. He also explained that family planning workers are feeling guilty:
LANGFITT: Zhang Erli used to work as a high-ranking official with the National Population and Family Planning Commission. Last month, he made an extraordinary, tearful apology on TV to the millions of women who've had to end their pregnancies because of the policy.
ZHANG ERLI: (Through Translator) I felt sorry for our Chinese women. I feel quite guilty. Chinese women have made huge sacrifices. A responsible government should repay them.
The NPR reporter concluded that a change is not imminent: "So given the demographic data, the public anger and the official guilt, why not declare victory and change the policy? NPR requested an interview with China's family planning commission. It never responded. Demographers say some officials are reluctant to make changes because they still think China has too many people, and China's current leadership is cautious and risk averse."
Jill Stanek posted the gruesome photos here.