China Expected To Loosen One-Child Policy

A state-run news service says the government will make a big change to the policy designed to restrain population growth. That policy has also led to a relative shortfall of young people and especially of girls.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. China says it will loosen its one-child policy. A state-run news service says the government will make a big change to this policy that was designed to restrain population growth, but that it has also led to a relative shortfall of young people and especially of girls. NPR's Frank Langfitt is covering this story from Shanghai. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Good morning.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should mention this policy's been evolving for some time.

LANGFITT: It has been. It's been loosening for years, and what they're talking about is a further loosening. Under the current system now, actually, couples - if each one is only an only-child they can have a second kid. And what they're talking about now is saying that if one member of the couple is an only-child, they can have two children. And what that would mean probably is another 10 million people would be able to have a second child. And demographers think maybe half would actually do that because, you know, raising a kid in China now is very expensive. So not everybody really even wants a second child, particularly in urban areas. And basically, what I think you're seeing is if this does come to pass, kind of a continued phasing out of the policy.

INSKEEP: Now with that said, when you talk about affecting the rules for people who are only-children, that is millions and million of people in China at this point, right?

LANGFITT: It is. It is millions of people.

INSKEEP: So why would the Chinese government want to make this change?

LANGFITT: Well, there are two reasons. One, is people really hate it. A lot of people really hate this policy. And another, the bigger, more important one is one you were mentioning earlier, the demographics. You know, China's labor is peaking and state demographers have actually been talking to the central government for years begging them to change the policy. And they say we're going to head into a real labor shortage coming up because of the policy. In fact, you've been seeing labor shortages in factories since 2007, 2008 down south. And even though this is a big country, because of the one-child policy, it's aging really fast.

So there's a need for more young people. And there's one demographer I've been talking to off and on on this, and he actually says the government is making the changes too late; that in fact they're not going to have the kind of labor they to continue to drive the economy and it's going to actually be a drag on the economy.

INSKEEP: How real is the imbalance between boys and girls, because it's believed that people will select in various ways to try to make sure that their one child is a boy?

LANGFITT: It's a very real statistically and otherwise, I think it's a very real differential. And certainly what you've seen in the countryside over the years, is a lot of women will move away to work in factories or women will not be around. And you have tons of frustrated men. And one of the concerns is that as time goes on with all of these frustrated men, maybe some of them not having work and not having wives, they could become, you know, more violent and bigger concern about stability here in China.

INSKEEP: Frank Langfitt, I want to ask you about another policy change that the government has announced. They say they're getting rid of these re-education through labor camps, which are a very famous in China. What is the government doing?

LANGFITT: Well, they're not saying exactly what they're doing. What their saying, they're abolishing them. They said this back in January of this year. Then they (unintelligible) a trial balloon or something and it got shot down. This - those sounds much more serious because it's coming out of this big meeting that we covered this week; one of the biggest policy meetings in many years.

The re-education through labor camps are also quite hated because they go back to the '50s and they allow cops literally to just take people and put them away for 18 months in a labor camp with no charges, no lawyer, no judge. And the public has really been turning against this, Steve, and a lot of it has to do with the Internet. There have been a number of cases that we've covered in which people were thrown into labor camp for just trying to defend their families. There was a huge outpouring. So one reason they might be changing this is because it's become so unpopular with the public.

INSKEEP: OK. Frank, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Shanghai.

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