China: birth limits still needed despite easing

PICTURE CREDIT: ThinkstockPICTURE CREDIT: Thinkstock

China has no intention of abandoning family planning controls despite announcing it would ease the one-child policy, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Keeping China’s birth rates low remains a long-term priority for the country’s development, National Health and Family Planning Commission Spokesman Mao Qunan told reporters during a briefing in Beijing.

“Family planning work, not just in the past, but even now with the adjustment of the policy, family planning is a national policy for China,” Mao said. “The control of population and keeping a low fertility rate is a long-term mission.”

The Communist Party announced last Friday that it would allow couples to have two children if one of the parents is a single child. Previously, both parents had to be an only child to qualify for this exemption.

Rural couples also are allowed two children if their first-born child is a girl.

The spokesman said each province will roll out the new exception in its own timeframe, depending on its own conditions.

The government credits the one-child policy with preventing hundreds of millions of births and helping lift countless families out of poverty by easing the strain on the country’s limited resources.

But the abrupt fall in the birth rate is pushing up the average age of the population (1,3 billion people) and demographers foresee a looming crisis because the policy has reduced the young labour pool that must support the large baby boom generation as it retires.

Asked if or when China would do away with family planning controls altogether, Mao said the policy would continue to be “adjusted and improved” but “as to when every family might be able to totally return to a natural state, I cannot predict this”.

Mao says he expected the central government to continue to tinker with family planning controls according to population changes and public demands.

Experts estimate that around one million extra births per year would occur in the first few years, on top of the 16 million babies born annually in China.

Consequences of the policy

A skewed gender ratio is just one of the documented consequences of the one-child policy. About 118 boys are born for every 100 girls, while the global average is between 103 and 107 boys per every 100 girls.

Like most Asian countries, Chinese societies have a traditional preference for boys. Until 2004, when the practice of sex-selective abortion was banned, millions of mothers would terminate when they found out they were expecting a girl. On average, the sex of a baby can only be accurately determined at 20 weeks, the half-way mark of a pregnancy.

According to Time magazine, the British Medical Journal also found that another consequence of the policy was that some 32 million Chinese men will never marry because of the gender ratio.

The magazine also reported that 91% of children born in China are only children. Fine, if you are poor and can only afford one child, but a disaster if your parents are well off. Called the xiao huangdi — or the little emperor — syndrome, these children grow up pampered, spoiled and entitled. The problem has become so severe that some companies have reportedly gone as far as specifying “no single children” in job adverts.

Sources: Time magazines, www.newrepublic.com

Additional reporting by Sapa