Time to fur­ther ease fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Afarmer in Guizhou prov­ince com­mit­ted sui­cide be­cause he couldn’t af­ford to pay the fine of 22,500 yuan ($3,612.5) for hav­ing more than one child. The in­ci­dent has once again ex­posed the dark side of lawen­force­ment in fam­ily plan­ning cases. Wang Guan­grong, 37, had four chil­dren, but the younger three couldn’t at­tend school be­cause the chil­dren of par­ents vi­o­lat­ing the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy can­not be ad­mit­ted to school or get med­i­cal wel­fare or have house­hold reg­is­tra­tion ( hukou).

People are bound to abide by the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy, but that doesn’t mean the chil­dren of par­ents who vi­o­late it should be de­nied the right to ed­u­ca­tion and Chi­nese ci­ti­zen­ship. The Third Plenum of the 18th Com­mu­nist Party of China Cen­tral Com­mit­tee eased some of the strict fam­ily plan­ning norms. For ex­am­ple, a cou­ple can have a sec­ond child if ei­ther of them is the only child of his/her par­ents. Though this is a wel­come move, the ul­ti­mate goal of the re­form should be to al­low cou­ples to de­cide how many chil­dren they want to have.

TV stars Sun Li and Deng Chao had their sec­ond child re­cently, but in Hong Kong, not on the Chi­nese main­land. Since the cou­ple ob­tained Hong Kong res­i­dency through the Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion’s scheme for main­land tal­ents and pro­fes­sion­als last year, their daugh­ter will be a Hong Kong res­i­dent and they will not have to pay a fine for hav­ing a sec­ond child. This shows how the rich and fa­mous avoid pay­ing fines for vi­o­lat­ing fam­ily plan­ning norms.

Per­haps the au­thor­i­ties should con­sider al­low­ing all cou­ples to have two chil­dren. People likeWang, who have four chil­dren, are rare in China, and they can­not re­verse the low birth rate trend in the coun­try. The strict fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy has led to a sig­nif­i­cant drop in the per­cent­age of work­ing-age people and a se­ri­ous gen­der im­bal­ance be­cause of Chi­nese people’s pref­er­ence for sons.

The beau­ti­ful vi­sion of “hav­ing only one child while the govern­ment takes care of the elders” is in sharp con­trast to the mis­er­able sit­u­a­tion that fam­i­lies find them­selves in if they lose their only child. The low birth rate has al­ready cre­ated so­cial prob­lems such as la­bor short­age and de­layed re­tire­ment.

A long-term fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy aimed at re­duc­ing the num­ber of births could be harm­ful to so­ci­ety and the econ­omy. China’s pop­u­la­tion grewrapidly dur­ing the coun­try’s first de­mo­graphic tran­si­tion pe­riod, which might have posed a chal­lenge to the planned econ­omy but paid huge de­mo­graphic div­i­dends once the coun­try an­nounced the re­forms and open­ing-up. But those de­mo­graphic div­i­dends have al­most be­come his­tory now.

China al­ready has more than 1 mil­lion fam­i­lies that have lost their only child. So, if the au­thor­i­ties al­low all cou­ples to have a sec­ond child, they could save many fam­i­lies from fall­ing apart af­ter los­ing their only child. Also, cou­ples whose first child is born with dis­abil­i­ties or is traf­ficked by crim­i­nals can fall back on their sec­ond child.

By al­low­ing all cou­ples to have a sec­ond child, the au­thor­i­ties could also re­duce the de­mo­graphic risks such as shrink­ing work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion and the in­creas­ing gen­der im­bal­ance. His­tory tells us that a so­ci­ety of two-chil­dren fam­i­lies is more suited to bal­anced de­mo­graphic de­vel­op­ment.

Since 2000 China’s aver­age fer­til­ity rate has been around 1.4, which is rather low. China faces a great chal­lenge due to its grow­ing ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and pro­por­tion­ately de­clin­ing youth pop­u­la­tion. More­over, gen­der im­bal­ance, too, is a se­ri­ous prob­lem— for ex­am­ple, tens of mil­lions men can­not find a wife. There­fore, by fur­ther eas­ing the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy, the au­thor­i­ties will not only help many fam­i­lies cope with the loss of a child, but also re­duce the de­mo­graphic risks.

Al­low­ing all fam­i­lies to have a sec­ond child could also help China achieve bal­anced de­mo­graphic de­vel­op­ment. The coun­try seems to have fallen into the trap of low fer­til­ity rate. Many young cou­ples, de­spite be­ing the only chil­dren of their par­ents, are un­will­ing to have a sec­ond child be­cause they have to take care of their aged par­ents. Some don’t want to have a sec­ond child ei­ther be­cause they are too fo­cused on their ca­reers or can­not af­ford to pay for its ed­u­ca­tion and other needs.

Since the 1990s the cost of bring­ing up a child in China has in­creased steadily, forc­ing a lot of cou­ples to de­cide against hav­ing a sec­ond child. So fur­ther eas­ing the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy will not lead to a pop­u­la­tion boom, which the au­thor­i­ties fear, be­cause de­mo­graphic de­vel­op­ment al­ways moves in waves. Even in ru­ral ar­eas where tra­di­tion­ally people tend to have more chil­dren, the fer­til­ity rate is only 1.6.

China’s child­bear­ing-age pop­u­la­tion as a pro­por­tion of the to­tal is on the de­cline, and if the ex­ist­ing fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy continues, China will be hard to achieve sus­tain­able de­mo­graphic de­vel­op­ment. So, the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy should be eased to al­low all fam­i­lies to have a sec­ond child for the sake of sus­tain­able so­cial de­vel­op­ment. The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor at the Pop­u­la­tion Re­search In­sti­tute of Pek­ing Univer­sity.

PANG LI / CHINA DAILY

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