The end of China’s one-child policy

Time of One-Child policy history

By Siyi Huo


Kayde Minervino, a special-needs child from Jiangxi, China, recalled her biological parents left a note explaining why they left her. She said it was “because they already had a child and the one-child policy.”  Minervino was adopted by her American mother Molly Minervino in 2002 when she was 18 months old. 

A note left with Kayde Minervino explaining the reasons she was abandoned.

Her birth parents said they abandoned her for two reasons. On the one hand, she was their second child and they would be harshly punished. And they really wanted to have a boy because “people long for a male child to support the parents when they are old,”  the note stated.

Minervino’s case is not unique among thousands of Chinese adoptees in the U.S. Since 1992 when China opened its gate for international adoption, 90,615 Chinese have been adopted by Americans, according to the data published by Bureau of Consular Affairs. Moreover, during the period of 1999-2015, 87.1 percent of Chinese adoptees were girls. 

Source: statistics from Intercountry Adoption, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
Source:  Intercountry Adoption, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Data before 1999 could be found in the report “Significant Source Countries of Immigrant Orphans (Totals of IR−3 and IR−4 Immigrant Visas Issued to Orphans), Fiscal Years 1992 − 2001.”

The massive number of Chinese adoptees indicates the large number of abandoned children in China. “The one-child policy was the source of the reason of children who were relinquished,” said Kay Johnson, a professor of Asian studies and politics who adopted a girl from Wuhan, China. She is also the author of “Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption and Orphanage Care in China.”

A brief history of the one-child policy

Introduced in 1979, the one-child policy regulated the size of Chinese families as a tool for population containment and economic reform. This nationwide policy limiting only one child per family was strictly enforced by provincial and local authorities through “mandatory contraception, forced abortion, fines and a Communist Party structure that closely monitors daily family life,” reported a project on China adoption by The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism.

In 1984 in some rural areas, the family planning started to come with a “1.5” designation. That meant parents could have a second child if their first child was a girl. If their first born was a son, then they could not have another child. This “one-son-or-two-child” policy was, to some extent, the driving force of more abandoned girls in rural China. Because of the traditional idea in rural areas that a son was much more important than a girl, many families would adopt the strategy that abandoning their girls until they had a son even though this could lead to several attempts and abandonments.

At the end of 1979, the National Population and Family Planning Commission further announced that a mother with one child should be fitted with an intra-uterine device (IUD) and a mother with two children should be sterilized.

Moreover, a “social maintenance fee” was imposed upon families having more than one child. The fee, based on the per capita annual income and the specific situation, varies in different areas, which could sometimes reach thousands of dollars. 

Other punishments, such as  an administrative penalty and high risk of being fired,  also put more burden on families who wanted to have more than one child or on rural families with no boys. 

The negative impact of the one-child policy was soon manifested. In 2000, The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of China dropped to 1.22, according to the Bureau of Census, which was the lowest level in the world. In 2010, TFA was still the lowest in the world with only 1.18 children estimated per woman. At the same time, the number of orphans climbed from 574,000 in 2005 to 712,000 in 2010, increasing 24 percent. However, among these 712,000 orphans, only 90,000 are living in orphanages while a total of 622,000 are outside of the national welfare system. 

Finally, on Oct. 29, 2015,  the Chinese government formally announced the one-child policy would be totally changed to a two-child policy, allowing parents to have two children in all conditions. The new law became effective Jan 1.

Time of One-Child policy history
Timeline of one-child policy

Impact on the Chinese adoption community in the U.S.

The end of the more than 30-year one-child policy has led to some re-evaluation.

Iris Chin Ponte, mother of a 7-year-old Chinese adopted boy said, “Children don’t hate their biological parents and could get the peace in their heart because they understand that some of their biological parents have no other choices but giving up their kids because of the one-child policy. They understand it is a complicated social and economic issue and no micro person could resist the macro history.”

Meiling Bedard Fu, a 22-year-old Chinese adoptee said, “I can understand the policy issue but I still feel sort of rejected in some way.”

Jenna Cook and her adoptive mother Margaret Cook went to China to  search for her birth parents. She published her “seeking birth parents” advertisement in the local newspaper and received responses from over 50 Chinese parents who claimed she was their abandoned child.

The May 25, 2012 article from Chutian Metropolis Daily. The title was "Dad and Mom, I really hope to hug you and thank you for taking me to this world". Image credit: Jenna Cook
The May 25, 2012 article from Chutian Metropolis Daily. The title was “Dad and Mom, I really hope to hug you and thank you for taking me to this world.” Image credit: Jenna Cook

“They threw their arms around me and wept. They bowed and begged to be forgiven,” she wrote in her article “A ‘Lost’ Daughter Speaks, and All of China Listens.”  She added, “the encounters made me question to what extent birth parents ‘abandoned’ their daughters in the traditional sense of the word. All of the families emphasized choosing a safe location where their daughter would be discovered quickly and taken to safety, and many parents left her with notes and special clothes in the hope that these tokens would help them find her later.”

The note by Kayde Minervino’s biological parents ended with,  “we hope that a kind-hearted family will take her in to raise her and we give our utmost thanks to whoever takes her in.”

Original Chinese version of the sentence below.
Original Chinese version of the sentence above.

“This is nonsense that Chinese hate girls, it is a stereotype,” said Johnson. “In the countryside if people don’t have a son, they become desperate but everybody want a daughter, at least one daughter. Many adoptive parents in China would take the girls even if there is a fine.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 7.19.21 AM
Source: Touching Home in China

“I think the change of policy last year in China was huge for the adoption community,” said Ponte, “because the numbers are already decreasing.”

Ponte added, “In New England, already a generation has changed, the population has shifted. There used to be a lot of young children, parties, celebrations and picnics, but now the children are teenagers and more university-level lectures, international travel groups, and they continue to change and eventually as young adults and adults, they can form their own group.”

But Ponte indicated concerns still remain. “My larger question is with the policy that has shifted,” she said, “Will more birth families be willing to connect with their adopted children abroad because I think maybe there will be a ripple effect where the birth parents won’t be so afraid to step forward.”
















About Siyi Huo 3 Articles

Siyi Huo is a multimedia journalist with experience in video and photography. She previously interned as a video journalist with the Boston Herald and a director assistant of Northern Light Productions. She wants to be a documentary film director and has special interests in investigation reporting.