Government and Policy

After 30 yrs one-child policy, an aging headache

Updated: 2010-09-24 21:46
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BEIJING -- He Weiqiong, 52, along with her two bothers and one sister, had a family reunion in their hometown in southern Guangdong Province last week to celebrate the mid-autumn festival.

Though He was happy to be with her 80-year-old mother and large family, she still felt "empty" as her 28-year-old daughter, who works in eastern Jiangsu Province, could not come home to join them.

Like most of her peers, He has only one child as her family was not affluent enough in the 1980s when the daughter was born.

"As I only have one child, my daughter's education and quality of life can be ensured in a family that had just made ends meet," she said.

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But after her daughter was married last year, He became a little worried.

"My daughter and son-in-law are both only children, so they may feel it is difficult to take care of their four parents when they are busy with work."

She said the one-child policy appears as two sides of a coin -- on one side, it suited the national situation at that time, as China is a country with a huge population and uncontrolled population expansion is worrisome; but on the other, a single child may feel lonely and the elderly might be more happy if they see many children and grandchildren sit together and carry on the family line.

Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of China's one-child policy. The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee issued an open letter on September 25, 1980, calling for CPC and Communist Youth League members to have only one child in a bid to improve lives.

The letter said, for families, more children would consume more money and food and hinder the improvement of living standards, and for the country, the population growth would affect the "accumulation of funds" for the nation's modernization drive.

It noted, however, that "the population growth problem may relax in three decades."

Additionally, the one-child policy does not cover ethnic minorities and farmers whose first child is a girl. Also, in some regions it was later adjusted to exempt couples who are, themselves, both only children.

Xia Haiyong, director of the Institute for Population Research at Nanjing University said about 400 million births were prevented after three decades of the implementation of the policy, which contributed to the increase of China's per capita GDP.

Less population also means more educational opportunities. Latest statistics show people above 15 years of age receive an average of 8.3 years of schooling, higher than the average level for developing countries.

"Fewer Children, Better Life"

"The more sons, the more blessings" has been what Chinese people believed throughout history, but the country's family planning policy has been trying to instill the slogan "fewer children, better life" into people's minds, especially farmers.

Lu Juan, 30, in Jiangsu's Jintan, obtained a 100,000-yuan ($14,700) micro-credit loan on Friday from her town's family planning office for her aquaculture business. Having only one child was a criterion for applying for the loan.

She could have had another child as Lu and her husband are both only children, but she decided not to have another and the couple are dedicated to raising the only child.

Song Yueqin, director of the Jintan Family Planning Bureau, said in the past, persuading people not to have more children was "extremely difficult" as people would "go through the back door" to secure a birth quota. Some even went abroad to give birth.

But China still managed to maintain a low fertility level. The natural population growth rate stood at 5.05/1,000 last year, which has also brought about aging problems.

The Office of the China National Committee on Ageing says the number of people aged 60 or above stood at 167 million in 2009, or 12.5 percent of the 1.3-billion population.

Xia said the emergence of the aging problem is a symbol of social progress and improving living standards, but it also challenges the country's services for the aged.

He suggested promoting community-based care for the aged as the pressure on only children means they may not have enough time to care for aging parents.