Childless by choice: a growing norm in China

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : China, the world’s most populous nation, is experiencing winds of demographic change. The one-child norm of Chinese couples is fast being replaced by the trend of “childless by choice”.

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“More and more young upwardly mobile couples in big cities are choosing to remain childless. The couples are educated and want to free themselves of the burden of child rearing to pursue academic and vocational pursuits,” Huang Shu, director of the division of Asian Affairs of the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), told IANS during a visit to India.

“I chose not to have children because I wanted to be free. The decision has nothing to do with economics,” Shu said.

Founded April 3, 1949, the ACWF is the apex body that takes care of the progress of Chinese women across all ethnicities.

The motto of the ACWF is to “unite and mobilise women to engage in China’s reforms and opening up programme – in the country’s socialist modernisation and in advancing social development and well-being”.

China is known for its one-child norm, and some women say they have the liberty not to have a child.

ACWF vice-chairperson Song Xiuyan said, “Women in China have the liberty to give birth to a baby or not to. They are not under any pressure to deliver children. We have a one-child norm in the country.”

These officials were part of an eight-member delegation that briefed women journalists in the capital about women’s welfare and lifestyle trends in China.

The one-child norm was introduced in China by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 to limit the country’s population growth. Despite criticism from several quarters, the rule which was declared temporary at the time of being promulgated holds good even today – more than a quarter of a century later.

But some Chinese women see it in a different light.

“Couples are not unhappy with the one-child norm. It is the country’s population policy. The policy is China’s contribution to the world,” Xiuyan said.

The country has managed to control its population explosion considerably, Xiuyan said. An estimate by government agencies says China’s current population is nearly 1.34 billion. There has been criticism that the one-child norm leads to male preference, but delegation members said women have done well in China.

“Women have breached several male bastions,” a delegation member said.

“We have women admirals and army personnel…we even have women who make jumbo jets,” Shu said.

The movement for women’s welfare is more centralised in China than in many other countries.

“The country has 30 large organisations under the All-China Women’s Federation, 57 indicators for women’s development and 88 policies forming the framework of action,” Xiuyan said.

China encourages women to be self-employed – with provisions for micro-credit support for entrepreneurships.

The average lifespan of a woman in China is 75 years, two years more than men, Xiuyan said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])