China to ease decades-old one-child policy
BEIJING: China will ease family planning restrictions nationwide, allowing millions of families to have two children in the country’s most significant liberalisation of its strict one-child policy in three decades.
Couples in which one parent is an only child will be able to have a second child, one of the highlights of a sweeping raft of reforms announced three days after the ruling Communist Party ended a meeting that mapped out policy for the next decade.
The plan to ease the policy was envisioned by the government about five years ago as officials worried the strict controls were undermining economic growth and contributing to a rapidly ageing population the country could not support financially.
Scholars had long urged the government to reform the policy, introduced in the late 1970s to prevent population growth spiralling out of control but now regarded by many experts as outdated and harmful to the economy.
While the easing of the controls will not have a substantial demographic impact in the world’s most populous nation, it could pave the way for the abolition of the policy.
“The demographic significance is minimal but the political significance is substantial,” said Wang Feng, a sociology professor at Fudan University. “This is one of the most urgent policy changes that we’ve been awaiting for years. What this will mean is a very speedy abolishment of the one-child policy.”
Wang Guangzhou, a demographer from government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated the policy would affect 30 million women of child-bearing age in a population of 1.4 billion people.
Although it is known as the one-child policy, China’s family planning rules are more complicated. Under current rules, urban couples are permitted a second child if both parents do not have siblings, and rural couples are allowed two if their first-born is a girl. There are numerous other exceptions.
Any couple violating the
‘The demographic significance is minimal but the political significance is substantial’
policy has to pay a large fine.
The one-child policy covers 63 percent of the country’s population and Beijing says it has averted 400 million births since 1980.
Analysts say the one-child policy has shrunk China’s labour pool, hurting economic growth. For the first time in decades the workingage population fell last year.
Studies have shown the detrimental effects of the onechild policy. China’s labour force, at about 930 million, will start declining in 2025 at a rate of about 10 million a year, projections show. Meanwhile, its elderly population will hit 360 million by 2030, from about 200 million today.
A skewed gender ratio is another consequence. China has a traditional bias for sons. Many families abort female fetuses or abandon baby girls. About 118 boys are born for every 100 girls, against a global average of 103-107 boys per 100 girls.
The adjustment is likely to be popular. Zhang Yuanyuan, who has a one-year-old son, said she had already decided to have one more child before the new policy and was willing to pay the fine.
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