November 18: Making a head count of the number of people in the most populous country in the world, is no easy task. The government of China knows this for a fact. So it sent six million people across the length and breadth of the country, to count its population.

The Grand Head Hunt [Illustration by Anup Singh]
The Grand Head Hunt [Illustration by Anup Singh]

These people will take 10 days to collect data from 360 million households, says Reuters in a report in ‘The Asian Age’. It is expected that by February 2001, the government will know the exact number of people, including the number of males and females, in China.

There’s a purpose behind this census. It is to see whether the population of China is above or below the 1.3 billion (people) target set by the government for the end of 2000. While the government estimates that China has 1.26 billion people, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) argues that it has many more people, maybe 20 to 100 million more. So this census will specify exactly how many heads there are, more or less.

But why is this population target so important to China? China bears the burden of having a substantial portion of the world’s six billion people, as its citizens. Over-populated countries like China (and India) face the problem of not having enough resources to divide among its people.

Earlier China enforced the one-child norm very strictly to stop the population boom. A government decree forbade urban couples from having more than one child. The result? Chinese couples have only one child willy nilly, causing further problems as some couples wanted daughters and not sons and vice versa.

But it’s not the number of people alone that will be counted. The house-to-house census will also note down lifestyle standards, health, education and access to basic facilities among other things.

It’s not going to be an easy task though. For starters, many people are hard to track down. “Census workers often have to return again and again in the morning and evening to get hold of people,” says a statistician (a person who uses data from a sample to make various estimates).

Many couples do not open the door to census workers as they are afraid of punishment for not getting their children’s births registered. Some couples have had more than one child and this breaches the one-child per family decree. These parents therefore, are afraid, as they are likely to be punished.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is waiting and watching to see the outcome of this grand head count.

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Filed under: world news
Tags: #population, #census

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