One Child Policy

The One Child Policy's Lasting Legacy

China has relaxed its One Child Policy today, allowing married couples to have two children. This was an attempt by the central government to stem the effects of its rapidly aging population and inject young workers into the workforce. When China made this policy law in 1979, its intent was to curb the growth of its population, which was getting too large for the government to feed and control. But the biggest consequence of such a sweeping law, a dwindling workforce, is now working against their booming economy, which is showing signs of weakness.

But the aftermath of the One Child Policy is far more than a dwindling workforce. It is one of suffering. Its legacy has reached into the wombs of expectant mothers who have been forced to have abortions. The One Child Policy has sparked one of the worst trafficking crises in the modern world as refugees, many from North Korea, are taken by force to be married to Chinese men who cannot find wives.

Forced Abortions

China’s Health Ministry reported a staggering number of abortions it performed since 1971, when the country began steps to control their population. China has performed 336 million abortions during this time and continues to do so.

To put this into context, China has performed more abortions than the total number of people currently living in the United States. China's total abortions since 1971 dwarfs the US abortion total since Roe v Wade was decided in 1973. That number is about 58 million.

In 2012, National Public Radio reported a disturbing story of a young woman, Feng Jianmei, who was found by Chinese family planning officials to be seven months pregnant with her second child. The authorities demanded that she pay a $6,000 fine. The fine, which is often set by local authorities, is called a “social compensation fee” and is usually set anywhere between 3 to 10 times a family’s annual income.

Since she could not afford this, the officials proceeded to give her an injection, which “ensured the couple's 7-month-old fetus was stillborn,” according to the report.

Another woman, who was eight months pregnant told the New York Times that officers forced her to a local clinic, bound her to a table where she was given an injection into her abdomen that was lethal to her baby.

“For two days she writhed on the table, her hands and feet still bound with rope, waiting for her body to eject the murdered baby. In the final stage of labor, a male doctor yanked the dead fetus out by the foot, then dropped it into a garbage can. She had no money for a cab. She had to hobble home, blood dripping down her legs and staining her white sandals red,” the report stated.

Human Trafficking Perfect Storm

China’s Academy of Social Sciences reported that there will be between 30-40 million more men than women in China by the year 2020. China’s gender ratio has already reached an epic imbalance. This means that the country’s poor must find wives through other means.

As we have documented extensively on our blog, North Korean refugees -- 70 percent of whom are women and 80 percent of whom have been trafficked -- have been sold by the hundreds of thousands. This is due to China’s zero tolerance stance on North Korean women who have poured into the country after North Korea’s cataclysmic famine in the 90s.

Women have been duped by traffickers who promise good jobs and food but in the end were sold with no way out of these marriages through legal channels.  

Crossing Borders works extensively with these women and have heard horrific tales of inhumane conditions they must endure. One woman shared with us that she was sold to a group of poor farmers who could not afford a single wife. She was kept in a shed for this group to share.

In addition, these women have to constantly look over their shoulders because, if they are caught, they will immediately be arrested and sent back to a North Korean prison camp.

Senseless Suffering

The great tragedy of the One Child Policy is that many experts question its effectiveness. It has been proven that, as a country urbanizes and grows in wealth, their population begins to diminish on its own. Some experts contend that this was already beginning to occur when China enacted this policy in 1979.

Even worse, the country’s prolonged use of this policy perhaps was driven by another factor: money. The decision today came out of a meeting of the ruling elite to lay out the country’s five-year development plan. China’s local governments have earned an estimated $300 billion from these fines alone. These fines, levied at the hands of local magistrates, often find themselves in the pockets of the ruling elite.

The One Child Policy has exacted a stunning toll on China and the world. Today it was loosened. But the practices of local governments in China are challenging to change on a local level and some suspect that the One Child Policy will still be in effect for years while the national government will now enforce its new Two Child Policy.  

This legacy of pain and suffering will be felt for generations to come.

China Facts: Population - Trafficking of North Korean Refugees

Our second installment of our series about China is about China's massive population, which affects many North Korean refugees who seek help in the country. China’s sheer size is its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. China is the world’s most populace country with 1.3 billion people. The United States by contrast has about 300 million people and is still the world’s third-largest country by population.

A mass revolt in China would be overwhelming for the government. The government knows this. So the sheer size of the population has been a check on the government. As we mentioned in our last post, China’s ruling class seeks to hold onto power. This has been the driving force of the country’s turn to capitalism and subsequent economic boom.

In his book, “The Party,” Richard McGregor writes that the Chinese government "is all about joining the highways of globalization, which in turn translates into greater economic efficiencies, higher rates of return, and greater political security,"

China has a giant pool of cheap labor that is more than willing to take low-wage manufacturing jobs. But it is also a challenge to feed and control a population so large.

China has taken some measures to curb the growth of its population. One of these measures is the infamous One Child Policy, which went into effect in 1979. By law, most Chinese couples cannot conceive more than one child. This policy has been relaxed several times over the course of decades but the core of it remains.


In 2010, The Economist reported a gender ratio of 275 boys for every 100 girls born in some of China’s provinces. This is almost a three-to-one ratio. What has resulted is an almost hopeless gender gap. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences stated that by the year 2020, there will be 30 to 40 million more men than women in China.

“The cruelest effects of this lopsided gender seesaw will be felt by the involuntary bachelors living in a culture in which marriage is expected,” wrote Susan Scutti in her January report in Newsweek. “These surplus men are sometimes disabled (20 percent), often illiterate, and nearly always the ones who have been left behind to live in rural communities with limited financial prospects.”

As a result, North Korean refugee women who enter China illegally have been sold to the poorest of Chinese men, many of whom are disabled.

The country that is responsible for this gender imbalance has, in effect, created this “market” for vulnerable women and on top of this, hunts these same women down and sends them back to North Korea where they will be tortured and even executed.

Crossing Borders has ministered to men and children who have lost their wives and mothers by forced repatriation. The practice leaves families devastated. Many turn to alcohol to cope.

An overwhelming majority of the North Korean refugees Crossing Borders has helped over the years have been sold to Chinese men. Some have been sold more than once.

Stay tuned for more facts about China.