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Is China’s new ‘two child’ policy too little too late?

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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A man and woman twirl a jump rope for a girl at a park in Beijing, October 31, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

News broke late last week that China would begin allowing couples to have two children, a dramatic change from the controversial “one child” policy it implemented in the 1970’s. Back then, the nation was facing a potential crisis as its population was growing at an unsustainable rate. Since its inception, the Chinese government estimates that the rule prevented roughly 400 million births through forced abortions, sterilization, and large fines for those who violated the policy, helping to stabilize the country’s economy for a number of years.

However, as so often happens, the solution simply created a new set of problems. As China’s demographics continue to shift towards the elderly—20% of the population is projected to be 65 or older by 2035— the country simply lacks enough people to replace the workforce production lost as the nation’s largest generations transition into retirement.

Moreover, an integral part of China’s family culture is that children are expected to take care of their parents as they age. That burden will be greatly increased in the coming years as the younger generations do not have siblings to help them look after and provide for their parents. And if tragedy should strike and that child either dies or is otherwise unable to provide that care, then the parents are left facing an even more uncertain future as they age.

The demographics of China have also shifted heavily towards males as families resorted to abortion and infanticide to ensure that they had a son. While that was a problem throughout the country, it was especially the case in the more rural areas where, despite allowing families to have a second child if the first was a daughter, many families took the necessary measures to ensure they had a son to give them the help needed to survive. CNN estimates that there are roughly 34 million more men than women in China today as a result.

Given those circumstance, you’d think that the new policy would be of great help in lifting the nation’s prospects for the future. Yet while many are in favor of the chance to expand their family, others were quick to point out that the cost of raising one child in China is already somewhat prohibitive. Consequently, trying to raise another will simply not be possible for many citizens.

Schools were one of the primary concerns for parents contemplating another son or daughter. It can be difficult and expensive for families to get one child into China’s overcrowded schools, so trying to find the space and finances for another would only exacerbate the problem.

Such concerns are why China’s last attempt at elevating the downward population trend were largely ineffective. In 2013 the government began allowing couples in which one of the parents was an only child to have a second baby. However, less than a quarter of those eligible chose to pursue the opportunity to expand their family. So while the present shift is a welcome change for many reasons and will undoubtedly help to an extent, it is unlikely to make enough of a difference to solve the primary problems that motivated the new policy.

Ultimately, China’s attempt at solving its population crisis in the 1970’s created a new population crisis today. They did what they thought was best given the current situation but did not foresee, or did not care enough about, the impact it would have on the future generations that are now left to cope with the consequences of a situation not of their making.

Unfortunately, such short-sighted negligence is far too common. Whether it’s economic decisions about social security in our country, concerns about global warming and the environment, or any number of other issues that seem to present us with the choice of solving problems today or providing a better future for tomorrow, finding a balance that can provide for both parties is seldom easy.

Ultimately, we cannot know the future consequences of our present decisions. But we serve a God who does, and that’s why it’s so important that we surrender every decision to his guidance and leadership. It’s also why it’s so important that we commit to obeying whatever he tells us to do. There will be times where God leads us through periods of temporary suffering and trial in order to bring us to a better place on the other side. But if we don’t have the faith necessary to follow him into those valleys, then the future he wants for us will remain forever out of reach.

In Numbers, we read about a time when the Israelites faced a similar decision. God’s chosen people had little interest in venturing forth into the Promised Land because it meant having to battle groups that made them look like grasshoppers by comparison. As a result, an entire generation missed out on the future God wanted for them (Numbers 13-14). By contrast, Caleb and Joshua had the faith necessary to follow the Lord through what would have been certain death apart from his protection and experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.

If we want to experience the life God has planned for us, we must demonstrate the faith necessary to follow him into some difficult and uncertain times. That can seem like a scary proposition, but it really shouldn’t be. We serve a God we can trust absolutely but also one who also calls us to follow him unconditionally. Will you?

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