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Sandeep Jain Writes: The divorce rate in China increased to 3.9 percent over the last year, with 3.63 million couples bringing their marriage to an end, according to the latest data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The rate has been rising for twelve consecutive years since 2003.

Sandeep Jain Writes: The family planning policy, known as the one-child policy in the West, is a population control policy of the People’s Republic of China. The term “one-child” is inexact as the policy allows many exceptions and ethnic minorities are exempt. The policy is enforced at the provincial level through fines that are imposed based on the income of the family and other factors.

The policy was introduced in 1978 and enacted on September 18, 1980[i] to alleviate social, economic and environmental problems in China. It was originally designed to be a one-generation policy[ii]. Some provinces have over this period relaxed the restrictions, majority of provinces and cities permit two parents who were ‘only children’ themselves to have two children. In 2013, this rule was relaxed even further: couples in which one parent is an only child are allowed to have a second child[iii]. In rural areas, families are allowed two children without incurring penalties. The one-child limit has mostly been enforced in densely populated urban areas, and implementation varies from location to location. In most areas, families are allowed to apply to have a second child if their first-born is a daughter[iv]. Many further exceptions exist, including for certain minorities there are no restrictions at all.

Estimates vary as to how many births this policy has prevented. A conservative estimate places the figure at 400 million births which were prevented. The chain growth which has been prevented can only be broadly estimated. On the other hand there is also unanimity that there have been negative sociological impact of this policy which have started coming to the fore now.

Three broad areas of negative impact which have been mentioned in most publications till date are an adverse sex ratio, a disproportionately large aging population and the “little emperor syndrome” describing the generation of Chinese singletons as being over-indulged, lacking self-discipline and having no adaptive capabilities.

Presently there are an estimated 50 million more males than females in China. This creates a huge population of single males who do not get a life partner to marry. This creates attendant social issues with which we are only too familiar in India. Similarly the proportion of young to old Chinese is also changing with an increasing shift towards the old. 4:2:1 phenomenon is being used to describe the burden of a single child who is required to support two parents and four grandparents. This is creating a demand for a better social security system for the aged in the society. Till now the aged were only being looked after by the family support structure, which as mentioned above is under stress.

However, it is the third social effect “Little Emperors” which is the focus of this paper. This is a generalization based on the fact that a single child will obviously be more pampered. The child will also be less adaptive due to never having to contend with a sibling. However, girls in particular tend to get more affected in this situation of being pampered at early ages and get prone to a psychological condition called “The Princess Syndrome”.

Princess sickness or princess syndrome is a term used to describe the psychological phenomenon affecting females, especially teenagers, and can be characterized by numerous psychological disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder, egocentrism and histrionic personality disorder, consequently resulting in individuals acting like or believing that they are “princesses”. Similarly, males with resembling characteristics are regarded as having “prince sickness.”

The term originated from East-Asian nations as a result of economic growth, particularly in China and in East Asian Tiger countries, where economic growth and prosperity led to disparity between the upper and lower classes, leading to the upper class investing heavily on their children.

A girl who suffers from PS lives life as a fairy-tale: focusing only on the pretty things, putting herself as the center of the universe, and obsessing about her looks (even if she’s only headed to the playground). While this can be fun and whimsical when a girl is a toddler, it can also set the tone for how she develops into a young woman, influencing her self-esteem, her dependence on others, how she takes care of herself and how empowered she feels in her life.

Girls afflicted with this disease are unable to be adaptive in their personal relations and expect the other person to be adjustable. Girls also tend to get more materialistic and less concerned about values. This clearly affects all relationships most of all marriage. Now imagine if both husband and wife are narcissist and are unable to adapt – potential for divorce, exactly what is happening now in China.

A single child policy also means that the parents are equally focused on the career of the child even if it’s a girl. So all girls in China grow up believing that their careers are as important as that of their husbands. This places couples in a potentially conflict situation when sacrifices have to be made for bringing up children etc.

The divorce rate in China increased to 3.9 percent over the last year, with 3.63 million couples bringing their marriage to an end, according to the latest data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The rate has been rising for twelve consecutive years since 2003. “Have you divorced today?” has recently become a common joke between Chinese people. Nearly 40% of marriages in Beijing end in divorce.[v] Overall the divorce rates may be 27 to 30 % of all marriages which is very high. Most Chinese media tends to blame social networking sites for this divorce (for promoting infidelity). However, a major cause for divorces may also be the Princess / Prince syndrome mentioned above. Importance to careers by Chinese women also means higher marriage age as women want to settle down in their careers before marriage, as also economic independence leading to easy sustenance even after divorce.

This will now give rise to a generation of children from broken homes. In the long run a single child policy may result in SINGLE PARENT syndrome. The social and psychological effects have not been fully analysed from this perspective yet.


[i] also Countdown by Alan Weisman p168

[ii]  Fong, Vanessa L. (2004). Only Hope: Coming of Age Under China’s One-Child Policy. Stanford University Press. p. 179. ISBN 9780804753302

[iii] The Economist – The Economist Explains – Why is China relaxing its one-child policy?”. The Economist. The Economist Group. 27 January 2015. Retrieved 27 January 2015

[iv] Hu, Huiting (18 October 2002). “Family Planning Law and China’s Birth Control Situation”. China Daily. Retrieved 2 March 2009.

[v] WHAT’s ON WEIBO, 16 Jul 15 accessed on 31 Aug 15.


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