Incentives, population policy, and reproductive rights: ethical issues

Stud Fam Plann. 1995 Nov-Dec;26(6):363-7.


PIP: The governments of most Asian countries have used incentives or disincentives as a population policy strategy. In the 1960s the Indian government offered money or gifts to acceptors at mass sterilization campaigns. In the late 1960s through the 1970s Singapore enacted legislation penalizing large families, including delivery fees for the third and subsequent children, denying them government housing and a choice of schools. There were also rewards to small families. During the late 1970s China started its own 1-child policy with the objective of limiting the population to 1.2 billion by the year 2000. Incentives included monthly welfare or nutritional allowances; priorities in housing, education, and medical care; and expanded maternity benefits. Disincentives included fines, deductions from salaries, withdrawal of maternity leave, health coverage, and allowances. There have also been charges of forced sterilization and abortion, which led to the US termination of funding to UNFPA because of its support of China's program. Incentives and disincentives raise the ethical issue of how to balance governmental actions attempting to control population growth against individual reproductive rights. In practice abuse has been rampant, therefore voluntary choice in childbearing should not be infringed upon no matter how strong the government interest is. To this effect some standards are proposed: 1) Governments restricting reproductive choice have the burden of demonstrating that continued population growth threatens the survival of society. 2) The people who are subject to the policy must agree that it is valid. 3) Measures that are less restrictive of voluntary reproductive choice should be tried and proved ineffective before more restrictive measures are employed. 4) The burdens of restrictive measures should be distributed equitably. 5) Penalties that directly punish children for being a high order child should not be used at all.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics*
  • Female
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Population Control*
  • Reproduction*
  • Women's Rights*