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The one-child policy (Simplified Chinese: 一孩政策) was a population planning initiative in China implemented between 1979 and 2015 to curb the country's population growth by restricting many families to a single child. The program had wide-ranging social, cultural, economic, and demographic effects, although the contribution of one-child restrictions to the broader program has been the subject of controversy. Its efficacy in reducing birth rates and defensibility from a human rights perspective have been subjects of controversy.
China's family planning policies began to be shaped by fears of overpopulation in the 1970s, and officials raised the age of marriage and called for fewer and more broadly spaced births. A near-universal one-child limit was imposed in 1980 and written into the country's constitution in 1982. Numerous exceptions were established over time, and by 1984, only about 35.4% of the population was subject to the original restriction of the policy.: 167 In the mid-1980s, rural parents were allowed to have a second child if the first was a daughter. It also allowed exceptions for some other groups, including ethnic minorities. In 2015, the government raised the limit to two children, and in May 2021 to three. In July 2021, it removed all limits, shortly after implementing financial incentives to encourage individuals to have additional children.
Implementation of the policy was handled at the national level primarily by the National Population and Family Planning Commission and at the provincial and local level by specialized commissions. Officials used pervasive propaganda campaigns to promote the program and encourage compliance. The strictness with which it was enforced varied by period, region, and social status. In some cases, women were forced to use contraception, receive abortions, and undergo sterilization. Families who violated the policy faced large fines and other penalties.
The population control program had wide-ranging social effects, particularly for Chinese women. Patriarchal attitudes and a cultural preference for sons led to the abandonment of unwanted infant girls, some of whom died and others of whom were adopted abroad. Over time, this skewed the country's sex ratio toward men and created a generation of "missing women". However, the policy also resulted in greater workforce participation by women who would otherwise have been occupied with childrearing, and some girls received greater familial investment in their education.
The Chinese Communist Party credits the program with contributing to the country's economic ascendancy and says that it prevented 400 million births, although some scholars dispute that estimate. Some have also questioned whether the drop in birth rate was caused more by other factors unrelated to the policy. In the West, the policy has been widely criticized for perceived human rights violations and other negative effects.