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China’s population shift – any lessons for the Philippines?

IN an effort to control its rapid population growth, China instituted a one-child-per-family policy in 1979.

Unplanned pregnancies were punished with large fines. In many cases, the policy led to forced abortions, forced sterilization, and infanticides. In its first 20 years, the policy helped reduce the population by about 100 million people.

Last week, the ruling Communist Party of China announced a major change of policy. Couples are now allowed to have two children. The reason: After decades of the one-child policy, the working-age population of China fell in 2012.

The change in policy was an active response to an aging population, amid concerns over the nation’s slowing economy.

One expert on demographic and social change in China called the new policy a “historic event” but said it may have come too late to redress the negative effects of the one-child policy on China’s economy and society. Another critic called on China to go further and end all control over the people’s decisions on having children, to solve the demographic problem that the one-child policy had caused and also in the cause of human rights.

The Philippines has not gone as far in its population planning as China, but it is carrying out a program that has brought it into confrontation with the Catholic Church. Under the Reproductive Health (RH) bill which was enacted into the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act in 2012, the government sought to hold back population growth by giving families greater access to methods of contraception, fertility control, sex education, and maternal care. The widespread distribution of family planning devices such as condoms and birth control pills was strongly opposed by the Church. To this day, the RH bill remains a matter of bitter contention between the government and the Church.

With the shift in China’s population policy, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBSP) said it hopes that Philippine officials will learn from China’s experience and reiterated that they should not look at people as a hindrance to economic growth. Life is sacred, Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP Public Affairs Committee, said. “The strength of the nation lies in our people.”

The Aquino administration pushed strongly for the RH bill when it was going through the legislative process and it was claimed by some quarters that the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) figured in its approval by Congress. RH is now a big part of the government’s health program.

The CBCP, however, hopes that China’s experience with its population program and its recent shift in policy merits close study by Philippine officials. There could be some lessons that we can learn and implications that might have a bearing on our own population views and program.