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Nuanced one child policy won’t stop population ageing

BEIJING (AsiaNews): The nuanced readjustment that Beijing made to its long-standing One Child Policy on January 1 last year when it increased the number from one to two, is having a positive effect, the Health and Family Planning Commission reports.

A divisional director of the commission, Yang Wenzhuang, said that statistics show more than 18.46 million babies were born in mainland hospitals in 2016—11.5 per cent more than 2015 and the highest since the record was set in 2000.

Although the numbers are lower than previous estimates, the family planning agency believes that allowing every couple to have two children could push annual births up to 20 million.

In 1979 China adopted a one-child policy in order to focus on the nation’s economic development.

Implementation has often been violent, with huge fines on violators, forced sterilisation and near-term abortions frequent.

In 2013 the government decided to ease restrictions and allow couples, at least one of whom is an only child, to have a second baby.

Yang said that with the adjustment to and improvement of the birth policy, the birth rate is growing steadily, explaining that last year the number of second children born on the mainland accounted for more than 45 per cent of total births.

Demographer, Yuan Xin, from Nankai University, expects the number of annual births to peak in 2017 and 2018 at about 20 million, as women born in the late 1970s and early 1980s rush to have a second child before they become too old.

Faced with an aging society and a shrinking workforce, the authorities decided to relax population controls in 2013 by allowing couples to have a second child if one spouse was an only child.

“There were about 11 million couples with one partner who was an only child, but the universal two-child policy means 90 million couples are now eligible to have two children,” Yuan said.

Consequently, the population is expected to rise to 1.45 billion by 2030, from 1.37 billion last year. But experts warn that this will not be enough to reverse the rapid ageing of the population as it will still leave the national fertility rate below replacement level.

By 2050, it is estimated that the over 60s will make up 39 per cent of the population, compared with the current 15 per cent.

However, demographers say that socio-economic reasons will dissuade many couples from having more than one child, as in fact, the nuanced readjustment to the policy makes little difference to office workers like Peng Yajun, from Guangdong.

At 36-years-of-age and soon-to-be-married, Peng only wants one child for economic reasons. “I’m an only child, I cannot afford school fees for two children and the cost of taking care of my ageing parents,” she said.

By some estimates, raising on child on the mainland costs about 20,000 yuan ($22,552) a year—more than 40 per cent of the average household income.

But China still faces a problem over the coming 25 years, as an aging population will place more pressure on social and security services, while the shrinking working population will be a big challenge for economic growth.

The Wall Street Journal reported that experts suggest that China’s demographic crisis is in part a legacy of its attempt at population control through the one-child policy.

“In traditional Chinese culture, more children meant more prosperity, so the traditional household would hope for more children, but the one-child policy has played a role in affecting that,” Jieyu Liu, the deputy director of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, says.

“This recent change to the one-child policy is mostly affecting urban populations,” she said. “Since the 1980s, rural households were allowed to have a second child if their first was not a son. I think that after 36 years under the one-child policy, a lot of urban couples have already adapted into this one-child culture.”

But the government doubts the ability of food and water supplies, energy production and the medical and public services to cope if the population is stretched too far.

Critics of the policy maintain that it is not a new policy, as the same practices of forced abortion and sterilisation are still in force, with the only difference being some leeway for a second child.

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