Should Countries Enforce Population Control?

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Why you should care

Because telling people how many kids they can have is more than just a touchy subject. 

This week: Should countries enforce population control? Let us know by email or in the comments below.

Bai Shaofeng hasn’t met a single woman who will date him after nine years of living in Beijing. As a hairdresser in the world’s second-largest city, he doesn’t make a lot of money and can’t afford his own apartment — a deal breaker for most Chinese bachelorettes who have endless options when it comes to suitors.

Today, China is home to 30 million more men than women, thanks to the decades-long one-child policy — which forced parents to pay fines, submit to abortions and raise children in secret. The government’s heavy hand on this matter was largely deemed by the West to be in violation of human rights. In 2015, a two-child policy was introduced to compensate, but the damage was done: China now faces a labor shortage and a rapidly aging population without enough caregivers, or taxpayers.

History is rife with examples of abusive population control efforts. Eugenics laws in 20th-century America, for example, saw at least 60,000 people in mental institutions sterilized in a bid to weed out “criminality, feeblemindedness and sexual deviance,” according to Alexandra Minna Stern’s Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in America. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in its 1927 Buck v. Bell decision the legality of involuntarily sterilizing patients with mental disabilities, which has never been overturned.

Some of their sons will never have the chance to marry.

Author Lihong Shi

But the 7.6 billion-strong global population is expected to hit 9.8 billion by 2050. Greater numbers compute to fewer resources for everyone to share. Food security is a big concern, as is environmental degradation. According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than half the global population of wild animals was killed off between 1970 and 2010, including 76 percent of freshwater wildlife. Widespread poverty is another worry, especially given that birth rates are higher in developing countries.

So is it time for all countries to turn to drastic population control in order to sustain life on Earth, or is it a violation of human rights, no matter what?

China first implemented its one-child policy law in 1979, aiming to curb its burgeoning population and conserve resources. The costs of the policy were high — approximately 20.7 million people were sterilized and 14.4 million women received abortions in 1983 alone, according to 2016 research in the journal Studies in Family Planning. As a society that largely favored sons back then, female fetuses were more commonly aborted, and the policy is estimated to have prevented 400 million births in China overall. Three years of the new two-child law has done little to compensate. The labor and caretaking needs aside, there’s an even sadder prospect: For these parents, “some of their sons will never have the chance to marry,” says Lihong Shi, author of Choosing Daughters: Family Change in Rural China.

But government measures aren’t always so effective. In 1975, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi responded to accusations of corruption by declaring a state of emergency. Her son Sanjay used this distraction as a means for introducing radical population controls. Roughly 8 million men were sterilized in 1975, but this did little to dwindle India’s population growth. Poor women simply continued having babies, and India is expected to surpass China as the most populous country in the world by 2024.

So what can be done to effectively address our planet’s dwindling resources and degrading climate? In this case, those bumper stickers and T-shirts might be right: The future is female. Project Drawdown, a coalition on climate solutions, found that the combination of family planning among women and educating girls about career and income opportunities has the most potential, not only to slow population growth but also to reduce greenhouse gas emissions this century. “Once women have more education and earn an income, they decide to have fewer children,” Shi advises.

Educating and empowering women just might save us all.

What do you think? Do we need to start having fewer babies — and is it the government’s responsibility to force us? Let us know via email or in the comments below.

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