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BC’s Tales of the Pacific: China’s one-child policy backfires

AS nearly everyone knows, the Chinese government has had a One Child policy in place for years, only recently rescinded. 

The policy was intended to control the population growth by limiting couples to only one child and it had to be a boy unless a couple received special permission from the government to have a girl. How do you control the gender of the babies, you ask? Mandatory abortions.

In recent times the Chinese government has rethought the whole policy, largely due to two unintended consequences, both having to do with a severe shortage of women in China.

Online brides. What we used to call mail-order brides, online brides are women who link up with their future husbands via websites. Russia made the practice famous after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the Nineties, but now China’s demand for young single women is insatiable. Consider: tens of millions of young Chinese men wanting to get married and very few women under, say, thirty years old. They must bring in women from other countries.

The growth of online dating services and marriage websites in Asia has been astronomical. Recently I accessed the website for the main newspaper in Singapore, the Straits Times. I was immediately bombarded with ads for dating sites, dozens of curvy, doe-eyed girls who apparently wanted to be the next Mrs. BC. Considering China is surrounded by poor, less developed nations full of women willing to try new surroundings, you have the recipe for robust romance.

At this point we don’t have a problem. Online dating and marriage is not illegal, it is capitalism. People identify a need and move to fill it. Except: Chinese men finding foreign brides and starting families is exactly what the Chinese government was trying to avoid. So the one-child, male-only mandate from the government has backfired.

Human Trafficking. The second unintended consequence is more serious than the growth of online brides. According to people who monitor these things the volume of human trafficking into China seems to be increasing substantially. If young Chinese men cannot find brides, they at least want to find prostitutes, but Chinese brothels are having a difficult time keeping the pantry stocked.

China has long been known as both a supplier to, and a consumer of, worldwide trafficking of people but the One Child policy has aggravated the problem. When demand goes up, supply must also, as does price. So more young women are being taken than ever before. We are losing the battle against human trafficking and China’s One Child policy has had a lot to do with that.

What do we learn? There is a limit to how much we can legislate human behavior. Governments can encourage or discourage certain activities by creating rewards for desirable or punishments for undesirable behavior. But in the end, human nature kicks in and people find a way to satisfy their desires, whether it’s children, drugs, or Levis.

The Chinese government is getting out of the family engineering business for now. That, too, will have unintended consequences. For example, what will happen to all the excess women who have been trafficked into China once the local market has been restored? And will lifting restrictions on the number of children cause a population explosion in China? What effect will that have on global prices of food, petroleum and other commodities? Sometimes the more we try to help the more we hurt.

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.