ArticlesVolume 14, Number 2 (2005)

Not in Our Country? A Critique of the United States Welfare System through the Lens of China’s One-Child Law


The United States has not shied away from speaking out about human right abuses that take place across the globe. However, in assuming the role of human rights crusader globally, the United States has neglected human rights violations that take place in its own backyard. Women and the poor have a long history of having their rights violated in this country. This violation is starkest at the intersection of the two groups, which can be seen in the development of welfare law. Racial stereotypes, traditional notions about gender roles and the role of the family, and political aspirations have shaped the development of welfare law in the past and continue to have a strong influence in the current law. United States welfare policy arguably is not in alignment with current human rights instruments or constitutional law regarding privacy.

The United States considers itself a human fights defender abroad, but the manner in which the United States has dealt with China in the context of human rights is enlightening. The United States has criticized China’s one-child law for resulting in coerced abortions and forced sterilizations, and as a result of these findings the United States has pulled much-needed funding from the United Nations Family Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports the family planning endeavors of the Chinese government. However, despite the disapproval that the United States has exhibited toward Chinese law, current American welfare law uses similar methods and has effects similar to those occurring in China. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 is credited with overhauling the welfare system, and, although it fell short of President Clinton’s promise to end “welfare as we know it,” it did radically change welfare as we knew it.