Left to be Found

How would it feel to not know exactly where you came from? We don’t remember the first couple years of our life; however, for most of us our parents fill us in. They show us pictures, videos, and at the very least tell stories about our first year.

We’re told where we were born, what time we were born, and even how much we weighed. Others of us don’t get that privilege. Not knowing about that first year doesn’t keep me up at night; it used to. What I didn’t understand when I was little was that me being adopted and living in the United States was an effect of China’s one-child policy. I know I have a better life than if I had stayed in China, so I don’t count being adopted as a negative effect of the one-child policy. However, there are more consequences to this policy that started out with good intent.

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Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California, wrote an article explaining the reason why China’s government implemented the one-child policy. He explains that back in the 1960’s and 1970’s in China there was an apprehension of a population explosion. China’s population growth rate was averaging at 2.5 percent in the 1960’s. However, the 1970’s saw a change that caused the population growth rate to be cut in half.

Still, China’s government was worried because over a third of the citizens were less than 15 years old. This is when the one-child policy, with a goal of raising standards of living, came into place (26). The policy, officially announced in September of 1980, was a result of hasty decision making. Yes, reducing the birth rate is one of the more ethical ways to curb population growth. However, we now know that the real reason that there was a population increase was because the death rate dropped before birth rate declined. This swift resolution to a seemingly significant predicament resulted in major consequences.

One of the consequences is the rise in infanticide, abortion, and sterilization. Jiang Chengcheng wrote an article for Time about the number of abortions conducted in China. In America there are over a million abortions performed each year. This pales in comparison to China. China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission indicated that there are over 13 million abortions performed every year (1). In an article for Financial Times, Simon Rabinovitch wrote that it is estimated that there have been 330 million abortions in China over the last 40 years.

Although the one-child policy wasn’t introduced until 1980, the government started encouraging people to have smaller families in 1971 (1). When women find out they are pregnant, they have few options. If it’s their first baby, then they have the option of keeping it. If it’s not, then they are forced to have an abortion, abandon it, or commit infanticide. Jonathan Mirsky wrote an article where he explained that the consequences for having more than one child are that the family could be denied social services or the parent’s wages could be cut (13). For this reason, there are so many babies that are found in garbage dumps; either they were obviously disposed of, or they were left to die.

Some women hang them, others burn, and still some use a knife. Not only is this infanticide, but this is also gendercide. When families are forced to limit the number of children they have, they naturally want boys, so that they can grow up and get a good job in order to take care of their parents when they get older. The other option the woman has is abandoning the baby. In Chinese the word abandonment means, “left to be found.” Here in America “abandonment” has a negative connotation; it’s not so there.

Sixteen years ago I was born to a woman who obviously wanted me to live. She cared enough to risk illegally abandoning me on the front steps of a car factory. Somewhere I would easily be found. Due to the one-child policy many women have had to make this difficult decision. Because of this, almost all of the children in China’s orphanages are girls. The 2013 United States Trafficking in Persons report says, “The Chinese government’s birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons, create a skewed sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls in China, which served as a key source of demand for the trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution” (129).

Compare the ratio of boys to girls in China to that of the United States. In the 2010 Census Briefs by the United States Census Bureau it said, “In 2010, there were 96.7 males per 100 females…” (4). Because baby girls are either killed before birth, after birth, or abandoned, the gender ratio is dangerously imbalanced. This causes high sex trafficking. Since there aren’t as many women for the men to marry, prostitution and kidnapping are massive.

The one-child policy results in families trying to buy girls in order to procure a spouse for their son. This one-child policy doesn’t just effect China. It also effects the United States through something called birth tourism. Hannah Beech wrote an online article for Time Magazine about birth tourism. She explains that because Chinese citizens are only allowed to have one child, many will travel to the United States to have their baby.

Since the baby is born in the US, he or she is automatically granted US citizenship. This enables the child to take part in our education system and other things. When they are 21, they are also able to sponsor their parents so that they may become United States citizens as well (1). Mothers coming specifically from China to the US for the sole purpose of being able to have a second child with US citizenship isn’t a huge issue. It’s expensive for a family to buy a plane tickets from China to the US and then stay here long enough to have the baby.

However, it does happen. As a result of the coincidence of the drop in the mortality rate and the decrease of the fertility rate in China, the one-child policy was born. Not only did it lead to big consequences such as a colossal number of abortions, infanticide, gendercide, abandonment, sex trafficking, kidnapping, and birth tourism, but it also has smaller consequences. There is devastation when an older couple loses their only child. Because they are older, they are unable to have another one.

This then leaves them childless and without someone to provide for them in their old age. Another consequence is that children are being raised without siblings. In an article for BBC, economist Nisvan Erkal told Celia Hatton, “What we found was that people born after the policy, and who are single children because of the policy are significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk averse and less competitive,” he says. “From the surveys, we find they are also more pessimistic and less conscientious” (1). It wasn’t as big of a deal for past generations because their parents had siblings, so they had cousins.

In Chinese, the words brother and sister often replace the word cousin. However, now that people who are only children are having only one child, cousins aren’t there anymore. Thankfully China now has made a relaxation in their policy. Now, if one of the parents is a “singlet,” then they can have two children. Before, a couple could only have two children if both parents were only children. Also, the one-child policy doesn’t effect people of ethnic minorities.

Rural families are allowed to have two children, but only if the first is a girl. Due to China’s one-child policy, there are consequences both big and small. I’m very lucky to have the life I do. I could’ve easily been a statistic without a story, but I’m not. I could’ve been one of the 13 million babies to be aborted in China in 1998, but I wasn’t. I could be a prostitute on the streets, but I’m not.

I could’ve been killed after I was born, but I wasn’t. I’m one of the thousands of girls that was lucky enough to be adopted. I’m not in an orphanage waiting to age out of the system. I live in America where I have two loving parents, and three siblings. Although I have a happy story, many do not.

What started out as an effort to control population issues has ended up causing unforeseen consequences. The one-child policy is just one scenario that started off with good intentions, but ended up with a bigger penalty.