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February 20, 2019

How to decide the number of children you need

One of the Vision 2030 dreams is to reduce the number of children per woman. How this will be achieved is the million dollar question. Our collective goodwill has to be invoked if the vision is to succeed. There must be adequate public participation as guaranteed under article 10 of the constitution before any laws or policies regulating the number of children are enacted.

The move to regulate the number of children per family no doubt amounts to micro-managing the family rights of those who are of child bearing age.

Article 45 guarantees us family protection which obviously includes one's liberty to decide the number and spacing of the children one will have. Article 43 guarantees us the right to enjoy our reproductive rights. These two provisions  cannot be wished away as we move towards Vision 2030.

However, rights are not absolute. Article 24 and 25 of the constitution provides for and gives the state powers to limit the foregoing rights. The limitation must be within the scope as prescribed by the foregoing articles. The government can justify the limitation when regulating the number of children that each couple should have. For example, the government can argue that in order to achieve sustainable economic growth, the population has to be reduced and or controlled so as not to assert excessive pressure on the available resources.

There is a downside to low population. The labour and manpower to generate income will obviously reduce.

If the intended move to set a ceiling on the number of children per family is to see the light of day, then the government has to come up with a very persuasive formula. This is because a mirror problem will have to be dealt with once the population goes too low.

The implementation structures have to be human rights-based. The guarantee of the protection before the law as guaranteed under article 27 has to carry the day.

We should listen and learn from the experiences of countries like China. Since 1979, Chinese couples have been limited to one child by law in order to control the country's population. Families living in rural areas, as well as those with an ethnic minority background, can receive an exemption from the law and have a second child without penalty.

Couples who have two or more children are required to pay a fine to the government. According to He Yafu, an independent demographer, such fines are common and "have become a major source of profit for family planning authorities" in recent years.He adds that the fines allow wealthy families to have extra children while forcing poorer families into involuntary abortions.The fines generate an estimated 20 billion yuan per year in revenue for the government. He Yafu estimates that over 2 trillion yuan ($314 billion) has been collected since 1980.

China's Population and Family Planning Law prohibits infringement on people's personal rights and property for family planning purposes. Moreover, a 2001 law prohibited abortions after the sixth-month of pregnancy. However, human rights groups and critics of the one-child policy say these laws are inconsistently enforced, and the local officials in many areas still carry out forced sterilisations and/or coerced abortions, sometimes in the third trimester after the foetus has reached viability.

In ten Chinese provinces, including Shaanxi, authorities are permitted to take "remedial measures" to ensure that birth quotas are not exceeded. In eight other provinces, authorities are required to terminate unauthorised pregnancies. Activists such as Chen Guangcheng have been jailed by the Chinese government for bringing to light evidence of forced abortions

The forced abortion of Feng Jianmei occurred on June 2, 2012, while Ms Feng was seven months pregnant with her second child. The forced abortion was carried out in Zhenping county in China's Shaanxi province. Local officials had demanded that Feng and her husband pay a 40,000 yuan fine for violating the nation's one-child policy. When they were unable to do so, authorities arrested Feng, made her sign an agreement to have an abortion, and held her down while injecting her with an abortifacient. Feng was reportedly traumatised by the incident.

On June 11, 2012, Feng's family posted graphic pictures of her stillborn child. The images soon became a viral phenomenon, sparking controversy within China and drawing international attention to the issue of forced abortions. In response to national and international attention, the Chinese government launched an investigation. On June 26, 2012, the investigation determined that Feng was not legally entitled to a second child, but that her rights had nonetheless been violated by the local family planning bureau. Two officials were fired and five others punished. On June 27, 2012, the National Population and Family Planning Commission announced it would send inspection teams across China to review the practices of local family planning divisions. Feng's husband, Deng Jiyuan, hired a lawyer to pursue criminal charges, but ultimately the family decided to settle out of court.

The incident has led to increased scrutiny of China's one-child policy, both nationally and internationally. Feng's case has been cited in editorials critical of the one-child policy, and has also been used as an example of how the Internet is empowering ordinary people in an environment of government censorship.On July 5, European Parliament passed a resolution condemning both Feng's case and forced abortion in general.


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