China considers relaxation of contentious one-child policy


China is formulating plans to change the country’s controversial one-child policy to keep economic growth on track as the population ages fast, a government adviser has said.

Change is unlikely to happen fast, and will initially be tried out in the cities, government adviser Zhang Weiqing has told the China Daily.

Leading experts had already handed in assessment reports to the government about a policy change. At present, the general rule is that only parents who are themselves an only child are allowed to have a second child, but under proposed changes, couples will be able to have a second child even if one of them is not an only child.

“China’s population policy has always taken into account demographic changes, but any fine-tuning to the policy should be gradual and consider the situation in different areas,” said Mr Zhang. He is director of the population, resources and environment committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

China’s national fertility rate is about 1.7, way below the replacement level of 2.1.

“Even with the policy further relaxing, there won’t be any sharp rise in the population,” Mr Zhang said, adding that an ideal fertility rate should be at least 1.8.

Couples who break the one-child policy rule have to pay a fine, the “social maintenance fee”, as it is known, but lose education and health benefits.

The National Population and Family Planning Commission reckons that some 400 million births have been prevented by the policy.

Steve Tsang at China Policy Research Institute at the University of Nottingham said it would be a major step for new leader Xi Jinping if he were to formally end the policy.

“I am sceptical that this will be done,” he said. “Population growth is now below the replacement level and the projection of demographics would suggest that the time has come to end the one-child policy, as China’s population will start to shrink in the coming decade, and the prospect that a shrinking working population will need to support an enlarging ageing population in the next two decades.”

There are growing signs that the one-child policy is losing its relevance and is becoming unpopular. In June, a number of government officials were punished after a woman in Shaanxi province was forced to abort a seven-month-old foetus. Feng Jianmei (22) was abducted from her home by five men from the local family planning clinic and forced to undergo an abortion.