China is the leading country in international adoption. What is the future of Chinese adoptions if the country changes its one child policy?

Reliable speculation, if there is such a thing anywhere and especially in China, suggests that China will soon begin to phase out the one child policy when the new government takes power next spring. Although most of us welcome the end of this draconian policy, it is reasonable to wonder how this change will affect international adoptions from China.

Scuttlebutt has it that any change will be phased in starting in selected provinces after the new government takes office in March 2013. The China Development Research Foundation (although not a governmental agency it is connected to the Chinese government) recommended that the family planning policy be changed to allow two children per family by 2015 and that all birth restrictions be lifted by 2020.

The one child policy was first introduced in 1979 as an attempt to rein in a population growth that seemed out of control and to improve China’s economy. China’s population had almost doubled in the previous 30 years going from 540 million to 960 million people. By all accounts, this policy has been successful at controlling China’s population and making way for the huge economic growth experienced in the last 30 years. The Chinese government claims that this policy has prevented the births of 400 million children and is partly responsible for lifting millions of Chinese out of poverty.

But at what human cost? Forced sterilizations and abortions, infanticide of baby girls, selective abortion of female fetuses, and abandonment of infant girls are all the legacy of the one child policy. And lest you think that these human right horrors are a thing of the past, think again. Approximately 7 million forced abortions still occur each year.  Just this summer news media throughout the world, including China, reported the case of 22 year old Feng Jianmei who had a forced abortion at 7 months.  Perhaps the only thing different now is that the family was brave enough to post pictures of the aborted fetus on the internet and that the Chinese media reported it.

The human cost of the one child policy extend beyond the human rights violations against women and girls. As a result of limiting births, China is now facing the problems of an aging population. Current estimates show that by 2050, 26% of China’s population will be over age 65, straining the economic and social fabric In a society without a governmental safety net to care for older citizens, the burden on these only children to assume full care of both parents is becoming a significant problem. Further, as Fareed Zakaria said in a CNN blog:

The implications [of an aging population] are immense. China’s workforce will shrink – it will no longer be the world’s factory. All those older people will need to be supported – by their families or by the state. And China will likely need to import workers instead of exporting them – and China is not exactly an immigrant-friendly society. Societies with fewer young people become less dynamic, less risk-taking and less adventurous.

As the result of limiting female births, China is now facing the problems of a gender imbalance, with current estimates that there are 100 girls to 123 boys under the age of four. The implications are far reaching—too few women available for marriage and fewer care givers for aging parents. Also, countries with a larger percentage of young adult males are more prone to social instability, civil wars, and revolutions.

How Will Changes in One Child Policy Affect Chinese Adoptions Abroad

International adoptions from China were another unintended consequence of China’s one child policy. Even those of us who have children we adore adopted from China celebrate the change to China’s family planning policy.  But we can’t help but wonder how this change might affect international adoptions.

Some experts doubt that the change in policy will result in a Chinese population boom or a significant change in the family structure. Having just one child has become the norm in China. Many Chinese, especially in urban areas, now embrace this as the ideal since apartments are small, good education is expensive, and women have good work opportunities.  They also worry about the effects of overpopulation on China and credit the current policy for allowing the economic expansion and improved life styles.

Changes to the one child policy will not be as far reaching in any area, including international adoptions, as some might expect because the policy applies to fewer people than many realize. Exceptions to the one child policy have been made for minorities, rural residents and couples where one of the parents is an only child. The reality is that in 2012 only about 36 percent of China’s population is legally bound to have only one child.

The truth is that no one knows what is going to happen with adoptions from China. There has already been a seismic shift in the last several years. Practically speaking Chinese international adoptions are limited to special needs adoptions. The current wait for a “healthy” baby can exceed five years, so few people apply. Special needs adoptions are, however, going strong.

While it is probably true that some parents abandon a child with a handicap or disease because they need/want their one child to be a healthy child, many parents abandon their sick or handicapped children because they cannot afford treatment, and they believe the child will be better off in governmental care. A change to the family planning policy is not likely to have much impact on this. I suspect that economic improvements, fewer people living in poverty, and improved access to health care would have a greater impact. What do you think?

Watch this video by Fareed Zakaria for more information on the one child policy.


Image credit: BWH2010