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The one-child policy is the current birth control policy of the People's Republic of China.
The name is based on a popular misconception that Chinese birth control required all Chinese couples to have no more than one child. Although "one child" was promoted as an ideal, and was the limit strongly enforced in urban areas, the actual implementation varied from location to location. In most rural areas, families were allowed to have two children, if the first child was female. Additional children would result in fines, or more frequently the families would be required to pay fees for public services such as education for the children that otherwise would be free. Moreover in accordance with China's affirmative action policies towards ethnic minorities, all non-Han ethnic groups are completely exempted from child birth constraints including financial penalties. Thus the overall fertility rate of China is, in fact, closer to two children per family than to one child per family. Furthermore, the steepest drop in fertility occurred in the 1970s before one child per family began to be encouraged in 1979.
The immediate cause of the birth control policy was the demographic bump of people born in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1949 the population of the PRC was about 400 million. In 1970, the population was 700 million. In the late 1970s, the Chinese leadership was alarmed by the fact that the "demographic bump" would soon begin entering childbearing years, and so it was decided to encourage family planning for this generation.
Since the mid-1990s there has been considerable relaxation in family planning policies in the People's Republic of China, largely due to the fact that the "demographic bump" of people born in the 1960s is now moving out of fertility age.
The implementation of the policy is generally left to local officials, which has led to wildly varying practices from location to location, as well as within a location over time. The policy has been enforced at time through the use of involuntary sterilizations and abortions.
The one-child policy has been cited as the cause of female infanticide in China (see sex-selective infanticide); however, few demographers believe that there is widespread infanticide in China. There is a preponderance of reported male births in some areas of China, but it is believed that this is the result of widespread underreporting of female births, in addition to the illegal practice of sex-selective abortions which is possible due to the widespread availability of ultrasound. It should be noted that while the reported ratio between male and female births in Mainland China does differ substantially from the natural baseline, it is comparable to the ratios in Taiwan, South Korea, and India, which do not have a strict family planning policy.