China may adopt ‘two-child policy’ this year

Birth control rules blamed for millions of forced abortions and demographic time bomb

Sisters play on their parents’ electric scooter in Beijing. China’s one-child policy has been in place for more than three decades, but facing the consequences of a dwindling workforce and a rapidly ageing population, Beijing has been loosening the rules in recent years.  Photograph: Greg Baker/afp/Getty Images

Sisters play on their parents’ electric scooter in Beijing. China’s one-child policy has been in place for more than three decades, but facing the consequences of a dwindling workforce and a rapidly ageing population, Beijing has been loosening the rules in recent years. Photograph: Greg Baker/afp/Getty Images

 

Thirty-five years after enacting draconian birth control rules blamed for millions of forced abortions and the creation of a demographic “time bomb”, China could be on the verge of introducing a two-child policy.

The new regulation, under which all Chinese couples would be allowed to have two children, could be implemented “as soon as the end of the year if everything goes well,” a government source was quoted as saying by the China Business News .

Liang Zhongtang, a demographer from the Shanghai Academy of Social Science, said the one-child policy “should have been abolished long ago”.

“The core issue is not about one-child or two-children. It’s about reproductive freedom. It’s about basic human rights. In the past, the government failed to grasp the essence of the issue.”

Beijing, which introduced the one-child policy in 1980, was quick to play down claims the two-child policy would be in place by the end of the year.

“No timetable has been set to allow all couples in the country to have a second child,” the National Health and Family Planning Commission insisted according to the state-run China Daily .

Lu Jiehua, a professor of demographics at Peking University, told the Global Times the change would probably come next year. “All relevant policies, regulations, formalities and facilities need to be in place to support [the policy] and it takes time.”

Liang Zhongtang, the demographer, said the apparent decision to bring in a two-child policy had been driven by growing public opposition to family planning laws. The internet – to which nearly 650 million Chinese people are now connected – had made public hostility more visible and more powerful, she added.

“The government – under increasing public pressure – has to respond to people’s demands.”

Demographic ‘time bomb’

Experts warn that China’s population is ageing rapidly while the labour pool is shrinking. The country will have nearly 440 million over-60s by 2050, according to UN estimates .

Meanwhile, the working-age population – those aged between 15 and 59 – fell by 3.71 million last year, a trend that is expected to continue .

In recent years there has been a gradual relaxation of the one-child policy, which already allowed ethnic minority families and rural couples whose firstborn was a girl to have more than one child.

Since 2013 couples in many parts of the country have been allowed to have two children if one parent was an only child.

State media has celebrated the results of that policy shift, pointing to an additional 470,000 births in 2014 compared to the year before.

But experts say the fertility rate is not rising fast enough with financial constraints putting many urban couples off having a second child.

“The change is imperative,” said Yi Fuxian, a demographer and outspoken critic of the one-child policy. “The government’s selective two-child policy has proved a failure. Scrapping one-child policy is the only sensible solution to China’s population crisis.”

For millions of “orphaned” parents – who lost the only child the Communist party allowed them to have – news of the impending policy change brought little comfort.

Huo Daozhong (58) whose only son took his own life in 2013, said: “It’s too late. The policy has nothing to do with us now.”

“He was only 30-years-old when he died. It felt like all our hopes had gone,” Huo said of his late son. “Nothing matters now. We are alive but feel dead inside.”

– (Guardian service)