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Childless Dystopia

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"As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices."
Miriam, Children of Men
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Children Are Innocent (Usually.) Children Are Special. Children make us smile and make us laugh. As adults grow older, Think of the Children! becomes a primary motivator for many things they do, because kids are how they Fling a Light into the Future.

...Unless that light is extinguished.

Perhaps there was a Sterility Plague, Gendercide, or Herod got a little overzealous; or maybe they were all rounded up to power the phlebotinum generator. At any rate, life is now grey, dreary and pointless, since there's nobody to build a future for.

On the idealistic end of the scale, it can be a temporary case of mass kidnapping, requiring nothing more than a few Big Damn Heroes to get them back. But if the poor things are dead or breeding has simply been closed off as an option, you've fallen off the cynical end straight into New Crapsack, Halfemptia with plenty of Abandoned Playgrounds. Expect a rise in Straw Nihilists, possibly spiraling into Bomb-Throwing Anarchists and Terrorists Without a Cause. The Fundamentalist is likely to decide this is some sort of divine retribution, and will be happy to explain why. The Anti-Nihilist may try to find some reason to go on, but he's facing a serious uphill battle.

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For the inverse of this trope, see Teenage Wasteland.

NOTE: Do not confuse with Hide Your Children, where a Video Game shows no children to prevent the player from running around murdering them. The game must explicitly spell out that all kids are dead or missing to qualify.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • ICE. All men died out, and Homosexual Reproduction hasn't been invented, so the now all-female humanity is dying out, too.
  • Monster Rancher has a Downplayed example in "Color Pandora, Guardian of the Forest". Stone Dragon took away all of the young and able-bodied color pandoras, leaving behind only the elderly, a single adult who avoided being captured with the rest of his peers, and a single child who was unlocked sometime after Stone Dragon's last visit. While the village has a secret sanctuary where they can unlock more of their kind, they're afraid to bring any more children into the world while Stone Dragon's still around.
  • In Sunday Without God, when people stopped being able to die, they also stopped being able to give birth, so with no new children being born in fifteen years the world's population has shrunk considerably. The only exceptions are twelve-year-old Ai, whose very birth is shrouded in mystery, and Ulla's twin sister Celica, who was born fifteen years ago but because she was frozen in time, is still a baby.

    Comic Books 
  • Raptors: Don Miguel, a very ancient and very evil vampire, has been devouring children so regularly that the streets of New York City are pretty much devoid of them.
  • The Justice League/Young Justice storyline "World Without Grown-Ups" was, as the title suggests, a world without grown-ups along with a mirror-world without kids. It served as a Plot Tailored to Captain Marvel who could shuttle between the two being a biological adult in superpowered form and a kid in his normal one.
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    Fairy Tales 

    Fan Works 
  • With Strings Attached:
    • Whether Baravada is a utopia or a dystopia is debatable, but it certainly is nearly childless. Only two children are seen by the four while they're there, and one of them is actually As'taris's mother Brox, reborn as a five-year-old boy after she was murdered for her... unique sense of humor.
    • The childless problem appears to have been solved in The Keys Stand Alone after the G'heddi'onians replace the tirin; there are plenty of kids around. However, one of the Geddies tells the four that the Baravadans (now known as the "Natives") are still not having children. At one point John speculates that too much magic makes people sterile, which would be why in With Strings Attached magic was forbidden in Ketafa.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town features the adults-only city called Town, which oddly is ruled over by a child king and his older aunt. There's a subversion involved in that near the Town is the children-only city called Kidville.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • The 1992 novel Children of Men by P.D. James.
  • Greybeard, by Brian W. Aldiss, has a childless world caused by a Sterility Plague.note 
  • Early in Belgarath the Sorcerer, Belgarath encounters a camp populated entirely by old people. They turn out to be the people who refused to follow Gorim to Ulgo, and were cursed with sterility as a result. They're just waiting to die off, and Belgarath finds the winter he spent with them very depressing.
  • New World in the Chaos Walking trilogy. Due to the fact that all the women in Prentisstown are dead, there hasn't been a child there in 13 years - not since the main character Todd was born.
  • In Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, a town has stopped having children ever since they heard a prophecy that one would bring down the king and end their prosperity. They live in dread of that day. At the end, after the old king has been brought down, the magician Schmendrick urges them to have children — it might help.
  • The Declaration Trilogy by Gemma Malley is set in a world where scientists have discovered life-extending drugs. However, a corrupt government is using the drugs to cling to power and prevent a younger generation from challenging them. Under the pretext of preventing overpopulation, strict laws have been passed, stating that no-one may reproduce unless they "Opt Out" of taking the drugs; even then, they are restricted to one child each. Any children born to parents who have not "Opted Out" (or who have "Opted Out" but already have a child) are labelled "Surpluses" and are taken away from their families to be raised in grim institutions. As very few people choose to "Opt Out", the result is a society where children, whether they were born legally or not, are greatly mistrusted.
  • Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick has more of a "Teenager-less Dystopia". In this apocalyptic world, some sort of electromagnetic pulse turned most of the teens into zombies and killed most adults. As a result, most of the survivors are the elderly or children under 12.
  • In The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, the nation of Gilead (Future-America) is so contaminated with chemicals and radiation that most people are sterile, and the births that do happen are usually "Un-Babies" with severe defects. As the misogynistic theocratic government of Gilead refuses to accept the concept of male sterility, the fault is put on "barren" women. The few remaining fertile women become sex slaves for powerful men.
  • Used to rare positive effect in the Erich Kästner novel Die Konferenz der Tiere ("The Animals' Conference") and the 1969 animated movie based on it, in which the animals decide that after entirely too many of the humans' peace talks and conferences have come to naught it's time for them to do something about it. After multiple appeals to reason and creative attempts at sabotage have failed to convince the stubborn humans to abolish war, the animals resort to taking the humans' (cooperative) children away from their "clearly unsuitable" parents by "abducting" them and hiding them in places where they can play safely with the animals looking after them — and that finally does the trick.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the city of Asshai has no children. The reason for this is not given, but since Asshai is a place where the darkest of magics are practiced the implications are quite sinister.
  • In First Lord's Fury, the final entry in the Codex Alera, the Vord Queen offers the people of Alera the option to surrender peacefully and live out the remainder of their natural lives under her rule. The only requirement is that they not be allowed to sire any more children. Many Alerans take the offer in order to escape the current war, but the main characters recognize that this just means they die as a people in sixty years instead of tomorrow. It is compared to a death by strangulation; more peaceful than some other ways to die, but you are still just as dead. Towards the climax, when the Vord Queen offers Invidia Aquitaine the chance to rule the surrendered Alerans in her stead, Isana points out that all this means is she will have a few years of despotism over a pathetic group of childless, aging citizens before they all die.
  • All children under a certain age are taken away in the Rapture at the beginning of Left Behind. Due to being below the "age of accountability", they automatically qualify for heaven.
  • Played with in Lilith's Brood. A Benevolent Alien Invasion has saved humanity from extinction in the wake of nuclear war. The aliens, called Oankali, travel the galaxy looking for sentient life to interbreed with, avoiding overspecialization and stagnation. The Oankali see humans tendency for intelligence and hierarchy as a ticking time bomb that will inevitably lead them to destroy themselves again. Humans have any genetic abnormalities cured (cancer and Huntington's Disease are specifically named), their lifespans extended to roughly 250 years, and are made sterile with one another. They can only reproduce with Oankali intermediaries, creating "construct" Half-Human Hybrid children. The humans who decline to join the Oankali build their own villages, as full of ennui as they are empty of children. This forms the central conflict of the second book, Adulthood Rites.
  • In Dan Wells' Partials series, humanity has been infected with a virus that the survivors are immune to, but any subsequent children are not. After over a decade of infants always dying within a few days, this has made the population rather hopeless for the future of humanity.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The Aschen Confederation offered the people of the planet Volia (P3A-194) a cure for a terrible disease on their world. However, the vaccine also resulted in sterility. A once thriving world of millions was reduced to chaos and riots, and then to a peaceful but empty world, with a few thousand apathetic residents and automated machines tending farmland. An earlier episode portrayed a Bad Future in which the same race was in the process of doing this to Earth.
    • In "Past and Present", SG1 arrives on a world where everyone is a young adult with amnesia and, while there are pictures of older people and children, they are nowhere to be found. It turns out that a Mad Scientist's experiments with longevity caused everyone to revert to a younger age, making the elders young adults and the children nonexistent.
  • The main driver for The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Dark Rain". In the episode, a rain of some toxin causes people to become mostly sterile, resulting in this.
  • The third season of Zoo deals with the world facing global sterility, as elementary schools are shut down all over the world.
  • The Handmaid's Tale, like the novel it's based on, takes place in a theocracy that began after the birthrate went down and the babies that were born had birth defects. The show has a flashback depicting June/Offred at the hospital with her child, looking at an empty nursery. A nurse explains to June that the only babies born at that hospital either went to the ICU or died. Later, someone actually attempts to kidnap June's baby.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look: The post apocalyptic gameshow recurring sketch has a "contestant" say that one of the things she regrets from before "The Event" was not learning more about keeping children alive, prompting the host to say that life would certainly be different if even some of the children survived.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "When The Bough Breaks" has the Enterprise discover the planet Aldea, which has been cloaked for thousands of years. While this has kept the Aldeans from being attacked or exploited, the cloaking has also made the Aldeans infertile. They actually kidnap some children from the Enterprise in their desperation.
  • WandaVision: The seemingly perfect sitcom town of Westview has no children until Wanda wills her twin sons into existence, despite the presence of an elementary school. Vision even comments on this oddity, mentioning that the playground he passes every morning on his way to work is always empty. The town is suddenly full of children for the Halloween Episode, and Pietro deduces that Wanda probably had them hidden away asleep in their beds until they were needed, as an in-universe Hide Your Children. Then in the last episode, when "Dottie" is released from brainwashing she begs Wanda to let her daughter wake up.

    Music 
  • The world that Futari No takes place in is a world where the majority of humans are a race called the "adult," who resemble robots. Flesh-and-bone humans still exist, but they are greatly outnumbered. Because of this, when Nana first met Lili, she had never seen another non-adult child before.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In The Bible: A curse that God would put upon the women of the kingdom of Israel for their continual sin, according to Hosea 9:14, is a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons supplement Heroes of Horror (which focuses on adding horror elements to a D&D session) has a chart of random creepy elements. One of them is "After spending some time in a village, it dawns on the heroes that there are absolutely no children."

    Video Games 
  • At the beginning of Half-Life 2, the Combine have been using a suppression field to arrest human reproduction for years. The empty playground pictured above has the faint, ghostly laughter of children to reinforce the creepy-factor. Blowing up their Evil Tower of Ominousness at the end of the game removes the suppression field.
  • Resident Evil 4 has the village of people who've been turned into People Puppet mooks, and notes explain that the children were unable to survive being implanted with a Puppeteer Parasite. Looking at the bonfire in the village near the start of the game reveals some very small skeletons.
  • The Walking Dead has the community of Crawford, which exiles or kills anyone that is under the age of 14, requires special care (diabetes, long-term illnesses), or elderly. This bit them in the ass harshly, when one woman didn't want to abort her baby and went on a rampage against the community. By the time you arrive there, it's overrun with zombies, having clearly collapsed from within.
  • Resident Evil 5 continues this trend where natives are given "vaccines" to protect against a "disease", with said vaccines actually being experimental Las Plagas and the deaths of all children, women, and most men being blamed on the alleged disease.
  • Vault City in Fallout 2 has no children due to contaminated groundwater rendering the population infertile. The fact that the place is a distopia is unrelated, though: that's because the city's citizens are stuck-up snobs who look down their noses at anyone not from a Vault and the oppressive First Citizen has passed numerous laws that prevent too much contact with the outside world, resulting in cultural and economic stagnation. Whether either situation improves is up to the decisions of the Chosen One.
  • Fallout 3's DLC The Pitt is affected by a contagion that disfigures and sterilizes the residents, or worse, makes them go crazy or become Trogs. The only child in the area is Marie, the infant daughter of Lord Ashur, and she has an immunity to the TDC (Troglodyte Degeneration Contagion) that raises hopes for an eventual cure.
  • Mass Effect:
    • It's not completely childless — one in a thousand survive — but this is pretty much what happened to the krogan when the genophage was deployed to stop their warmongering, and their culture has spent the last 1500 years spiraling below the Despair Event Horizon as a result. Krogan are such Explosive Breeders the salarians engineering the genophage calculated the 1-in-1000 would still be enough to maintain their population, neglecting to consider the psychological fallout of having 999 of your 1000 children stillborn. It made the krogan a Dying Race as their subsequent fatalism and infighting meant they lacked the necessary will or unity to change their ways to offset their lower birth rate. One of the Golden Ending slides for the krogan, if you cure the genophage, depicts them with children again; it is the happiest you will ever see them.
    • Mass Effect: Andromeda:
      • This is one of the reasons the krogan Clan Nakmor was chosen to join the Andromeda Initiative, as they, apparently, exhibit a measure of resistance to the genophage. The salarians see it as a mistake to allow the krogan to uncontrollably populate the Andromeda Galaxy.
      • The kett don't seem to have any children. While Hide Your Children is also in effect (since the kett seen in the game are all fighting a war, and there's no glimpse of what civilian kett life is like, if there even is any), a line of dialogue from Nakmor Drack after learning the truth of kett "reproduction" suggests there are no kett kids full stop. Worse, it's pointed out kett genetic and biotechnology is so advanced they could fix whatever stopped them from reporting normally, but are choosing to be this way.
  • In Digital Devil Saga this forms a major plotpoint and reveal at the end of the first game giving both the characters and players a major clue that something is seriously off about the Junkyard. The second game averts this trope entirely.
    Lupa: Have you ever seen a child here in the Junkyard?
  • Wellington Wells, the setting of We Happy Few; There are no children anywhere, and some adults can be seen playing with the playground equipment "Because if we don't, who will?" That's because during an alternate World War II, the Germans occupied the village, and the people had to do a Very Bad Thing— Namely, give away anyone under 13 to the German Military. The guilt eats away at the Wellies so much that they take a Fantastic Drug to forget what they did, but still fly into crazed frenzies when they are reminded. One article you find describes a "Breeder Riot", where an angry mob killed a pregnant woman. Sally Boyle is mother to the only baby in town, and her storyline is trying to escape Wellington Wells before someone discovers it.
  • In Heaven's Vault Aliya notices that there are no children on Maersi. It is implied that it is the consequence of the despotic rule of Iox.

    Web Comics 
  • Implied on Everything is Fine — Despite there being parks with playgrounds, no children are ever seen or mentioned in the neighborhoood. The 9th episode in the series, An Iron Voice, hints that the children are still around somewhere, but their parents are forbidden from seeing them.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-1322 is a rift to Another Dimension whose denizens were briefly friendly to the Foundation, until the Foundation tried to help them by developing a vaccine to a widespread illness. Tragically, it had the side effect of sterilizing the population, and the furious "Last Generation" launched a Lensman Arms Race specifically to get Revenge.
  • The world of 17776 isn't dystopic, per se. The story is set 15,000 years after every sapient being spontaneously developed Complete Immortality and became infertile for unknown reasons, and for the most part, people feel that Living Forever is No Big Deal and pass the time in deliberate Modern Stasis with hobbies like increasingly bizarre variants of football. However, while the infertility issue is usually carefully talked around, it is made clear that the presence of children is greatly missed, as one character mentions finding a modern-day mural of children and breaking down in tears.

    Western Animation 
  • Played With on Young Justice (2010)Klarion and his minions use magic to split the Earth into two dimensions, one containing everyone under 18 and the other with everyone older. From what we see the kid world functions surprisingly well, with teenagers doing all they can to care for unattended children. The adult world, however, breaks into riots from desperate parents whose kids vanished right before their eyes that were egged on by The Light in order to provide cover for The Light's goals.
  • Parodied in American Dad!. When Stan goes to see a doctor about a vasectomy, he finds the clinic's dream is a world without children.
    Stan: A world without children... Future generations will thank us!
  • A variation occurs in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Phineas and Ferb's Quantum Boogaloo". In process of child-proofing everything, eventually children themselves were child-proofed and stored away until adulthood. Under the rule of Emperor Doofenschmirtz, children are not allowed any more.

    Real Life 
  • Many Native American and First Nations communities in the United States and Canada became this in the late 19th and early 20th century, when their children were forcibly removed and sent to government-run residential schools under the "kill the Indian, save the man" assimilation policy. Thousands died (mainly from disease), and those who survived returned to their families scarred from abuse and stripped of their language and culture. The impact of this policy (which in some places didn't end until the late 1990s) is still felt in Native American communities to this day. This was also done to the Australian Aborigines, resulting in what is known as The Stolen Generations, however it was less wholesale. Children with mixed race descent were particularly targeted.
  • Rural areas around the developed world can shade into this as fertility rates drop and emigration to the nearby cities occurs, leaving increasingly elderly populations behind.
  • Many nations and ethnicities have seen their populations drop below replacement level reproduction and begun population declines. Some countries have encouraged or relied upon immigration to make up the difference, to varying levels of acceptance by the native born. Though mathematically the declines have terminal points, how low they will actually go is anyone's guess, since a turnaround is a matter of population members being willing to have more children. As an example, Japan's current rate will drop its population from 128 million in 2010 to 87 million in 2060.
    • South Korea might be the de facto real-life example. Its birthrate reached 0.81 in 2021, one of the lowest in the world, and is still falling. It's even become a hazard to the nation's economy, and most of the government's efforts to reverse it have fallen flat.
  • When the queen of an ant colony dies, the rest of the colony eventually expires because no more eggs are being laid. This can also happen with bee/wasp/hornet hives as well, though they are usually able to raise new queens when needed.

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