By: Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor
It’s a popular saying that things never happen the same way twice.
For over four decades, the Communist Party in China’s one-child rule bound families to that case. One first word, one first step, one first day of school; any family that tried to create a second set of memories by having another baby was inflicted with heavy fines or even forced abortions, The New York Times reported.
But the announcement came on Oct. 29 from President Xi Jinping that China’s Communist Party would be revoking that one-child rule, allowing for the joy of an additional child.
Don’t be fooled, though. While this decision might appear warm and fuzzy on the surface, it didn’t come from a place of nostalgia about large family relationships or even a wish to see Chinese residents happy. Nor did the government permit citizens to have more control over what they do in their personal lives.
Instead, it’s all a game of numbers. According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, which enforces the rule, China will now tolerate two children per family to “increase labor supply and ease pressures from an aging population.”
This statement is faintly reminiscent of what occurred with 19th-century farmers in the United States; the easiest – and least expensive – way to run a large farm was to have a large family. But what is happening in China is much more sinister.
An article by The Los Angeles Times estimates that 10 million children under the age of 16 are working in a multitude of Chinese factories. Even though labor laws ban children younger than 16 from taking jobs, these laws aren’t strictly enforced.
According to The New York Times, many families in poverty-stricken areas of China have no choice but to send their young children to work. In the factories, the kids are treated like disposable labor. The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences reports that more than 40,000 workers break or lose fingers each year in a small manufacturing district of Hong Kong alone. If a child can no longer work, another one is brought in as a replacement.
These factory children also work inhumanely long days, often 16 hours or longer, and are paid far less than the mandated minimum wage of just under $3.00 an hour.
Given the past history of cruel working conditions in China, a major concern is that these new children will be treated as fodder to be funneled into manufacturing jobs so that the country’s global economic position won’t slip as the current population grows older. China remains one of the best economies in the world largely because they have mastered hyper-speed production while violating basic human rights.
As one of the top trading partners with China, the United States wrongfully turns a blind eye to the brutal conditions in factories and harsh treatment of workers. Inexpensive imports that Americans can purchase on the cheap consistently prove to be more important than taking a stand for decent treatment of fellow human beings.
This is something that the United States cannot continue to do in the coming years. It’s no surprise that political relations with China are rocky at best right now, but remaining silent on the matter won’t help anyone. Especially in rural areas of China, these children will have short childhoods rooted in production quotas and fear rather than fruitful education and joy.
China has a major responsibility to use this new policy for leveling out an aging population. But if they choose instead – which I fear they will – to use these children as a way of illegally amplifying the employment sector, then the United States, under a responsibility to all of mankind, must choose to get involved. The U.S. pokes into a plethora of other issues with less consequence than this one, so there is no excuse for our nation to sit on the sidelines.
Children are the same all around the globe; just as society abhors those who force kids to become soldiers, we should feel the same concern toward those who force them to become slaves to the conveyor belt.