Beijing plan to lift family child number limits gets muted response

Chinese affluence and urbanisation is leading couples to want to have fewer offspring

Children performing a kung fu fan dance while carrying plastic eggs during an “egg protection” activity to help pupils understand motherhood in Guilin, Guangxi province. Photograph:  Stringer/Reuters

Children performing a kung fu fan dance while carrying plastic eggs during an “egg protection” activity to help pupils understand motherhood in Guilin, Guangxi province. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

 

Reports that China is planning to scrap limits on the number of children families are permitted to have has prompted an underwhelming response among many ordinary Chinese people, who said it was unlikely to inspire them to have more offspring.

China’s cabinet, the state council, commissioned research on the impact of ending the policy, which was loosened in late 2015 to allow people in China to have two rather than a single child, Bloomberg said, citing a source familiar with the issue.

If true it would mark the final demise of the “one-child policy”, the greatest exercise in social engineering in history, which has left the world’s most populous country with a large gender imbalance and a rapidly greying population.

The one-child, or two-child, policy will be replaced with “independent fertility”, where people can decide for themselves how many children they have. A decision could take place by the end of this year or early next year.

The government is trying to find a way to offset the effects of a rapidly ageing population. While the number of births rose nearly 8 per cent in 2016, the first year after the restrictions were eased, births fell 3.5 per cent last year to 17.23 million.

Forced abortions

The one-child policy was hated in China and led to many human rights abuses, such as forced abortions and sterilisations, and also left the economy short of workers.

It also sparked a rise in sex-selective abortion, which meant that by the end of 2017, China had 32.66 million more males than females.

However, economic realities, especially expensive education and healthcare costs, mean many Chinese families are having fewer children regardless of the official line.

“I am not planning to have a second or more. It costs too much to have more children, especially the extra classes they have to take,” said Amanda (36) from Harbin, who works for a dairy company.

“We just can’t afford it as a normal working family,” she said.

On the social media network Weibo, most people said removal of the rule would not encourage them to have more children.

Ma Xiaonian said: “The middle class don’t care about having more. Only the poor and the rich have as many as they want.”

Population imbalance

Honghai Zhiyang wrote: “I will only have one. It’s too much pressure and we can’t afford it. Abolishing the policy is not at the core of the population imbalance.”

Some Chinese population experts are calling for bonuses such as tax relief and grants for families choosing to have more than one child.

Other Asian societies are seeing growing affluence and increased urbanisation translate into a falling birth rate and failure to meet the 2.1-births-per-woman replacement level needed to keep the population growing in almost every wealthy nation.

In Hong Kong, the number of births fell 7 per cent last year, while in self-ruled Taiwan the total fertility rate was 1.13, making it the third-lowest in the world. In 2017, Ireland, which has the highest birth rate in the European Union, had a fertility rate of 1.97 births per woman.