The photograph reflects the gender imbalance story of China. More boys than girls were in this kindergarten in Beijing on Friday when a China Daily photographer visited it. Yan Xiaoqing
Worsening gender imbalance and an aging population have prompted experts to intensify their call for adjustments in the country's decades-old family planning policy.
The experts have urged the government to ease the family planning policy, which allows most of the couples to have only one child, after latest data showed that 33.31 million more boys than girls were born in China between 1980 and 2000.
Adjusting the family planning policy in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) will be beneficial to families as well as social development, said Yuan Xin, a professor in Tianjin-based Nankai University's population and development institute.
The country's male to female birth ratio has been changing, with more boys born since the 1980s. Worldwide, the average is 103 to 107 boys for every 100 girls. But last year, it reached 120.56 in China, Yuan said.
Except Tibet, all provinces, municipalities and regions have this gender imbalance, with the situation being most serious in Jiangxi, Anhui and Shaanxi provinces, he said.
"The gender gap in China will continue to widen in the short term," Yuan said.
China began its family-planning policy in the 1970s by encouraging a couple to have only one child, and made it binding on all, except minority ethnic groups and rural residents, in 1982. Though the policy has prevented 400 million births, experts have criticized it for creating a host of problems from gender imbalance to an aging population.
"The policy has succeeded in preventing the country's population from growing too fast," Hu Angang, one of China's leading policy advisers, wrote in the Economic Information Daily on Thursday.
But "now, we should implement a new population policy of 'one-couple, two children' to counter the problem of aging population," said Hu, who is the director of the center for China studies in Tsinghua University.
The country's population growth rate has dropped to less than 10 per 1,000 since 1998. Last year, the rate was 5 per 1,000, while Chinese women's fertility rate fell to less than 1.8, which means the country is facing the problem of having fewer children, he said.
By 2050, 31.1 percent of China's population will be above 60, much higher than the world average of 21.9 percent then. And India is expected to have 244 million more working-age people - between 15 and 59 years - than China by 2050, according to the UN Population Division, Hu said.
Zhai Zhenwu, director of the school of population and sociological studies at Renmin University of China, agrees that the family planning policy should be adjusted. "I think the adjustment should start after 2011. But the transition of the policy should be smooth," he told China Daily.
"We are aware of the problem and working on a comprehensive and sustainable policy that would cover not only the size, but also the structure, quality and distribution of the population," Zhao Baige, deputy director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said last month.
Many couples are eager to have two children. "I'd like to have two children if the policy allows, even though it means a heavier burden on the family," said Tang Ying, a 26-year-old human resources official in Beijing.
A recent survey by Beijing-based market research organization Horizon Research shows that nearly 40 percent couples with one child want to have two children. And only 7 percent of those who have two children think that having just one child is better.
But experts said a policy adjustment was fraught with uncertainties and problems of its own. Instead, "to fundamentally solve the problem of gender imbalance, we should change the deeply rooted traditional preference for the male child", Yuan said.
(China Daily 11/28/2009 page1)