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A two-child policy is a government-imposed limit of two children allowed per family or the payment of government subsidies only to the first two children. It is in effect in China and has previously been used in Vietnam. Although not mandated by law, in the 1970s, citizens of British Hong Kong were also highly encouraged to have two children as a limit, and it was used as part of the region's family planning strategies.


During the 1970s, Chinese citizens were encouraged to have only two children. The ongoing Cultural Revolution and the strain it placed on the nation were large factors. During this time, the birth rate dropped from nearly 6 children per woman to just under 3.[1] (The colloquial term "births per woman" is usually formalized as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), a technical term in demographic analysis meaning the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime if she were to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates through her lifetime.)

As China's youngest generation (born under the one-child policy, which first became a requirement for most couples in 1979) came of age for formation of the next generation, a single child would be left with having to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents. In response to this issue, by 2009 all provinces allowed couples to have two children if both parents were only children themselves.[2] After a policy change of the Chinese government in late 2013, most Chinese provinces further relaxed the policy in 2014 by allowing families to have two children if one of the parents is an only child.[3][4][5]

Moreover, in accordance with PRC's affirmative action policies towards ethnic minorities, all non-Han ethnic groups were subjected to different rules and were usually allowed to have two children in urban areas, and three or four in rural areas. Han Chinese living in rural areas were often permitted to have two children, as exceptions existed if the first child was a daughter.[citation needed][6] Because of cases such as these, as well as urban couples who simply paid a fine (or "social maintenance fee") to have more children,[7] the overall fertility rate of mainland China is, in fact, closer to two children per family than to one child per family (1.8).

Since 2012, Han Chinese in southern Xinjiang have been allowed to have two children. This, along with incentives and restrictions against higher Muslim Uyghur fertility, is seen as attempt to counter the threat of Uyghur separatism.[8]

On 29 October 2015, Xinhua reported the change in the existing law to a two-child policy citing a statement from the Communist Party of China.[9][10] The new policy allowing Chinese couples to have two children will help address the aging issue in China,[11] but with increasing child-rearing costs, the effect remains open to question.

On 2 November, 2015 it was quoted by China's top family planning authority that the new two child policy would be implemented once it is ratified in annual session of the National People's Congress scheduled in March 2016.[12][13]

Hong Kong[edit]

In Hong Kong, the Two is Enough campaign in the 1970s encouraged people to have two or fewer children in each family, contributing to the reduced birth rate in the following decades (poster with actress Fung Bo Bo)

In British Hong Kong, the Eugenics League was founded in 1936, which became The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong in 1950.[14] The organisation provides family planning advice, sex education, birth control services to the general public of Hong Kong. In the 1970s, due to the rapidly rising population, it launched the "Two is Enough" campaign,[14] which reduced the general birth rate through educational means. The organisation,[15] founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation with its counterparts in seven other countries.[15] The total fertility rate in Hong Kong is currently 1.04 children per woman, one of the lowest in the world.


Iranian authorities encouraged families in Iran not to have more than two children when conducting Family planning in Iran from early 1990s to late 2006. Iran's government "declared that Islam favored families with only two children", as one historian put it.[16] when the family planning program initiated where Iran's Health Ministry launched a nationwide campaign and introduced contraceptives - pills, condoms, IUDs, implants, tubal ligations, and vasectomies.[17] Starting in 2006, the government's population control policy changed when Ahmadinejad called for reversal of Iran's existing policy of "two children is enough"[18] and later in 2012 Ayatollah Khamenei also stated that Iran's contraceptive policy made sense 20 years ago, "but its continuation in later years was wrong ... Scientific and experts studies show that we will face population aging and reduction (in population) if the birth-control policy continues."[19]


In Singapore, the two-child policy until the 1980s was called "Stop at Two".

United Kingdom[edit]

In July 2007, the think tank Optimum Population Trust (now Population Matters) advocated what the Daily Mail described as a "'two-child' policy" to combat population increases and climate change in the United Kingdom. The article stated:

"According to the report, published by the Optimum Population Trust, Britain's high birth rate is a major factor in the current level of climate change, which can only be combatted if families voluntarily limit the number of children they have."[20]

In October 2012, the Conservative Party's proposed policy of only paying child benefit for the first two children of unemployed parents has been described as a 'two-child policy',[21] and has been fronted by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and former leader of the Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith.[22]


Vietnam has had a population policy for over 50 years, launched by the Vietnamese government in the early 1960s in North Vietnam and continues in a modified form today throughout united Vietnam.[23] The policy emphasizes the official family-size goal to be một hoặc hai con, which means "one or two children."[24]


In 2014, Vietnam has an estimated population of 92.5 million people, which represents 1.28% of the total world population.[25] Currently, the total fertility rate of Vietnam is 1.8 (births per woman),[26] which is below the replacement-level fertility of 2.1, the rate "at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next" according to the World Resources Institute.[27]


From 1954 to 1975, Vietnam was split into North and South Vietnam along the 17th parallel with separate governments and policies in each region. North Vietnam became the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and had a communist government, whereas South Vietnam became the Republic of Vietnam and was more aligned with the United States and other Western nations.[28] In 1963, North Vietnam began a policy advocating a two-or-three-child norm due to the sharp population increase of the largely poor and rural population.[24] Vietnam's family planning policy was developed before those of other countries, such as China and India, the government used a system of information, education, communication (IEC) campaign and publicly accessible contraceptives to curb the population.[29] After the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1975 under the Communist Party, there was a governmental effort to extend the policies of the North to the rest of Vietnam, which extended into the next decade.[30] Though the government of the Republic of Vietnam adopted family planning in general as the official state policy, inadequate medical facilities prevented the policy from being effectively implemented.[31]

In 1982, the Vietnam government practiced various family planning measures, including the allowance of use of abortion and the creation of the National Committee for Population and Family Planning. After 1983, each family was required to limit the number of children to two. In 1985, the government increased incentives, such as contraceptives and abortion acceptors, and disincentives, such as penalties for violations, for family planning.[31]

In 1986, the Party implemented the Renovation (Đổi Mới) Policy, which completely reversed the Communist Party economy to implement capitalistic market ideals. The aims of the Renovation Policy were to end Vietnam's economic isolation, increase competitiveness, and raise living standards.[32] In an attempt to effectively develop the population socioeconomically and increase the standard of living within the population, the Vietnam government emphasized the need to contain birth rates.[33] In 1988, Council of Ministers issued an in-depth family planning policy, adding additional restrictions beyond the previous restriction of keeping the maximum number of children per household to two.[34] The detailed one-or-two-child policy of Vietnam was established nine years after China's one-child policy was implemented, and elements of China's policy are reflected in Vietnam's, such as the emphasis on marrying later,[23] postponing childbearing age (22-years of age or older for women and 24-years of age or older for men),[34] and spacing out birth of children (3–5 years apart).[23][34] The state was required to supply free birth control devices (such as intrauterine loops, condoms, and birth control pills) and to provide facilities for individuals who are eligible for abortions.[34] Furthermore, if families did not comply with the two-child policy, they were required to pay high fees and were unable to move into urban centers.[34]

In 1993, the Vietnamese government issued the first formalization for the unified Vietnam of the one-to-two child policy as a mandatory national policy. The policy combined advertisements and education to promote a smaller family "so people may enjoy a plentiful and happy life."[35] The Vietnamese government explicitly linked the family planning policy with "historical and cultural traditions, value structures and development objectives," encouraging a collectivist mindset in which individuals honor the needs of the nation above their own.[33] The goal of the policy was to reduce the Vietnamese fertility rate to the replacement level of 2.1[27] by 2015, so that the country could have a stable population during mid-21st century. In 1997, the goal was accelerated to reach the replacement level by 2005, and the government subsequently integrated an increased use of abortion as a means to curb population growth.[36]

In 2003, the Standing Parliamentary Committee of the National Assembly issued the highest legislative document on population titled the Population Ordinance, which restructured the official family planning policy.[23] According to the ordinance, couples "shall have the right to decide on the time to have babies, the number of children and the duration between child births."[37] However, shortly after, the government implemented the National Strategy on Population 2001-2010, which again called for decreasing the fertility rate to the replacement level by 2005. This caused controversy as individuals protested the conflicting messages purported by the government in regards to their reproductive rights.[23] To address this confusion, the government issued Resolution 47 in 2005 which stated that "to sustain high economic growth, Viet Nam needs to pursue a population control policy until it has become an industrialized country." However at this time, the population had already reached the goal of having a total fertility rate below the replacement level.[23]

In 2009, the Population Ordinance was amended to again restrict the number of children to be one or two children, although individuals were allowed to decide the timing and spacing of their births.[38] The government is currently drafting a new Law on Population to replace the Population Ordinance in 2015. However, there is disagreement between policy makers and academics on what should be included in the law.[39]


The organizational structure of the two-child policy was housed under different governmental units since its conception in the 1960s. As the policy evolved from "Initiation in the 1960s-1970s; Maturity in the 1980s-1990s; and Legalization in the 2000s-2010s,"[23] the administration of the population policy also changed. From 1961-1983, the population program fell under the Population and Birth Control Unit. From 1984-2002, it was under the control of National Committee for Population and Family Planning. From 2003-2006, it was in the jurisdiction of the Viet Nam Commission for Population, Family, and Children. Since 2007, the population program has been under the General Office for Population and Family Planning.[23]

Although the policy was advocated on the national level, the central government did not utilize specific fines or incentives, instead delegating implementation responsibilities to local governments.[29] Each family was required to have at most two children, and local governments were responsible to decide the details of enforcement. Depending on the specific location, district governments charged fines ranging from 60 to 800 kilograms of paddy rice, equivalent to the worth of a month to a year's wages, for each additional child, and additionally, women who agreed to be sterilized were given bonuses of 120 to 400 kilograms of rice. Individuals who did not use contraceptives sometimes had their names announced over the intercom system of the village to shame them into using them, whereas individuals who did could be selected to win the Labor Medal for "good realization of the population-family planning program."[29] The government and large companies also regularly denied people who violated the policy of their salaries, promotions, and sometimes even their jobs.[29]

Current status[edit]

Currently, the effective population policy is the revised 2009 Population Ordinance which states that "each couple and individual has the right and responsibility to participate in the campaigns on population and family planning, reproductive health care: (i) decide time and birth spacing; (ii) have one or two children, exceptional cases to be determined by the Government."[38] Thus, individuals have control over the timing and spacing of the births of their children but are still restricted in the number of children they are allowed to have. Furthermore, later that year, Chief Executive Trương Tấn San stressed the need for continued diligence in population control and stated that the population of Vietnam should be 100 million people by 2020, and suggested that a new comprehensive Law on Population be introduced to the government by 2015.[23]


Reduction of the birthrate[edit]

The total fertility rate in Vietnam dropped from 5.6 in 1979 to 3.2 by 1993, suggesting the two-child policy was successful in containing the population growth.[40] According to one demographic model, the Bongaarts' model of components of fertility, high rates of contraceptive use and of induced abortion are plausible explanations for the decreased fertility rate. Furthermore, because of this policy, the population has fundamentally changed their ideas of the family. In 1988, the Inter-Censal Demographic and Health Survey found that parents wanted an average of 3.3 children, and in 1994, they found that the ideal number of children fell to 2.8.[40]

However, the reported findings differ depending on the fertility model utilized and on the particular research study cited. The United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific found that the average number in household was 3.1 in 1998.[41] In another study conducted by the America-based non-profit, non-governmental organization Population Reference Bureau, the number found was lower at 2.3.[42] Another study, published in the Worldwide State of the Family in 1995 by Tran Xuan Nhi,[43] found a contrasting finding that the total fertility rate only dropped slightly and the size of nuclear families experienced only a slight change, dipping from 4.8 to 4.7 from 1989 to 1994.[41]

Sex-based differences[edit]

There is evidence that son preference exists in Vietnam.[44] Traditionally, men oversee and are responsible for household enterprises, managing agriculture, ancestral worship, and carrying on the family name.[45] However, although the desire for a son is seen in the Vietnamese family's fertility practices, the desire for more than one son is not.[45] Families with two daughters are twice as likely to have a third child than families with at least one son, presumably with the hopes that this one will be a boy.[45] Furthermore, women who do not have any sons are around 15% less likely to use contraceptives than families who have at least one.[44] There were also increased rates of "contraceptive failure" amongst couples who had a son, as families secretly removed an IUD to bypass the policy in hopes of having a son.[46] This is consistent with findings from other East Asian countries in which son preference corresponds with a demand for fewer children so that families will have at least one son to maintain the ancestral line.[44]

Despite the evidence for son preference, there is no clear evidence that Vietnam's sex ratio at birth is increasing, as seen in other East Asian countries, notably China, though evidence is conflicting depending on the source.[46] In fact, according to the Vietnamese census data for 1989 and 1999, the sex ratios of males to females at birth are actually decreasing.[46] On the other hand, some sources state that the impact of son preference varies by region of Vietnam. In the north, there is a strong relationship between sex bias in fertility decisions and number of male births, while in the south, this relationship is nonexistent.[45] However, mothers who pursue certain occupations, such as government cadres and farmers, are more likely to want a particular sex of child and have higher sex-ratio differences at birth. This reflects the pressure for government employees to adhere to the two-child limit, and the perceived necessity of males for manual labor in the farm.[46]


Inadequate contraceptives[edit]

Although the policy states that "the state will supply, free of charge, birth control devices... to eligible persons who are cadres, manual workers, civil servants or members of the armed forces... and poor persons who register to practice family planning... The widespread sale of birth control devices will be permitted to facilitate their use by everybody that needs them,"[47] the only modern contraceptive readily available in Vietnam is the IUD.[48] However, many women choose not to use it due to the side effects, such as increased bleeding, back and abdominal pains, headache, and general weakness.[49] Thus, contraceptive use is low among women under the age of 25, and experts have speculated that "contraceptive use among young women might increase if temporary, easy-to-use methods, such as the pill and the condom, were more accessible. For the government to achieve its two-child policy, the survey committee recommends increased promotion of the commercial availability of the condom and the pill, and strengthening of the government family planning program."[48]

Increased abortion[edit]

Abortion rates in Vietnam are unusually high by international standards, with a total abortion rate of at least 2.5 abortions per woman.[50] Generally, the abortion rate for young age groups is higher than older age groups due to a limited awareness of contraceptive methods and availability. Individuals of lower educational levels also have higher abortion rates.[51] Vietnam also has some of the world's most liberal abortion laws, though the Vietnamese government is aiming to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortion-related difficulties.[52] Although sex-selective abortions were banned by the government in 2006,[52] there is evidence that suggests that son preference is associated with a higher likelihood of repeat abortions, as women with no sons were significantly less likely to have a repeat abortion compared to women with one son.[53]

There are multiple factors influencing Vietnam's high abortion rates. First, because women do not have access to contraceptive methods besides IUDs, many do not use effective birth control.[50] Women who have undergone multiple abortions used short-term methods of contraceptives, such as condoms and contraceptive pills, which are less effective than long-acting contraceptives to which many do not have access.[53] Secondly, due to the higher costs of raising a child in some geographic areas of Vietnam, abortions have become more acceptable.[50] Furthermore, the era of modernization and development of free-market reforms since the 1980s has led to a rise in premarital and unwanted pregnancy, and subsequently increased abortion services.[50] Additionally, the Vietnamese government has insufficient alternatives to abortion within the family planning purposes and a lack of post-abortion contraceptive dialogues for families.[52] Thus, experts have suggested providing more diverse, long-acting contraceptive alternatives and increasing counseling for families that have experienced an abortion as methods to decrease abortion in Vietnam.[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ CIA World Factbook
  2. ^ "计生委新闻发言人:11%以上人口可生两个孩子 (English: "Spokesperson of the one-child policy committee: 11% or more of the population may have two children)" (in Chinese). Sina.com. 10 July 2007. Retrieved 7 November 2008. 
  3. ^ Patti Waldmeir (2013-11-15). "China's 'one-child' rethink marks symbolic shift". FT. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  4. ^ Ouyang, Y. (2013). "China relaxes its one-child policy". The Lancet 382 (9907): e28–e30. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62544-1. 
  5. ^ http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-07/10/content_17706811.htm
  6. ^ Yardley, Jim (11 May 2008). "China Sticking With One-Child Policy". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 November 2008. 
  7. ^ "New rich challenge family planning policy." Xinhua.
  8. ^ "The government in Xinjiang is trying to limit Muslim births". The Economist. 7 November 2015. Retrieved 10 November 2015. 
  9. ^ "China to end one-child policy and allow two". BBC. 29 October 2015. 
  10. ^ "China to allow two children for all couples". Xinhua. 29 October 2015. 
  11. ^ "News Analysis: Two-child policy calls for better public services - Xinhua | English.news.cn". news.xinhuanet.com. Retrieved 2015-10-31. 
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  13. ^ "China two-child policy not valid until March, government says". BBC. 2 November 2015. 
  14. ^ a b History of the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong
  15. ^ a b History of International Planned Parenthood Federation
  16. ^ Abrahamian, History of Modern Iran, (2008), p.184
  17. ^ Sciolino, Elaine, Persian Mirrors : the Elusive Face of Iran, Free Press, 2000, 2005 (p.282)
  18. ^ Prospects for Ahmadinejad’s Call for More Rapid Population Growth in Iran Tait, Robert (October 23, 2006). "Ahmadinejad urges Iranian baby boom to challenge west". Guardian Unlimited (London: The Guardian). Retrieved 2010-03-03. 
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  33. ^ a b Bruun, Ole; Jacobsen, Michael (2 September 2000). Human Rights and Asian Values: Contesting National Identities and Cultural Representations in Asia. Psychology Press. pp. 161–180. ISBN 0-7007-1212-7. 
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  49. ^ Johansson, Annika; Le, Thi Nham Tuyet; Nguyen, Lap; Kajsa, Sundstrom (September 1996). "Abortion in Context: Women's Experience in Two Villages in Thai Binh Province, Vietnam". International Family Planning Perspectives 22 (3): 103–107. 
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Further reading[edit]

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47234 news items

Yibada (English Edition)

Yibada (English Edition)
Sat, 28 Nov 2015 03:26:15 -0800

Policy changes are needed to adopt to changes on social dynamics and employment issues brought about by China's two-child policy. (Photo : www.ap7am.com). Chinese authorities have decided that policy changes are needed as amendment to China's ...

The Guardian

The Guardian
Mon, 23 Nov 2015 23:00:34 -0800

Happy to be a big brother? A young family poses in front of Tiananmen Square in China. Last week, the country announced plans to repeal its one-child policy. Photograph: Imaginechina/REX Shutterstock ...

The Economist

The Economist
Sat, 31 Oct 2015 01:00:36 -0700

JUST as Soviet planners periodically reviewed their quotas for grain production, so too has China updated its policy on baby-making: all Chinese couples will soon be allowed to have two children, not just one. The change, brought about in part due to ...

Voice of America

Voice of America
Tue, 10 Nov 2015 05:19:08 -0800

“The two-child policy will also lead to more spending on the second child, and thus contribute to economic growth. The families having the second child will reduce their savings to meet the new requirement,” He said. The government is expecting the ...

Voice of America (blog)

Voice of America (blog)
Sat, 14 Nov 2015 13:03:46 -0800

The Conference Board, a U.S.-based research group, says there are both good and bad effects that might result from the two-child policy. The group says, “An increase in the number of children could have a positive impact on the consumption of products ...

New York Times

New York Times
Thu, 29 Oct 2015 04:11:00 -0700

BEIJING — Driven by fears that an aging population could jeopardize China's economic ascent, the Communist Party leadership ended its decades-old “one child” policy on Thursday, announcing that all married couples would be allowed to have two ...

University Observer Online

Christian News Wire (press release)
Wed, 25 Nov 2015 13:45:00 -0800

The announcement that a universal two-child policy will be adopted, allowing all married Chinese couples to have two children, will be reviewed. The policy change was driven by serious demographic challenges currently facing China—a rapidly aging ...

Foreign Policy (blog)

Foreign Policy (blog)
Tue, 10 Nov 2015 09:39:06 -0800

The two-child policy should add an 8 percent boost to the Chinese diapers market (already growing 12 percent year-over-year) and 6 percent to the Chinese baby formula market (growing 14 percent year-over-year), according to a research note by ...

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