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Meeting challenges of a huge population
By Zhang Feng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-16 01:28

Measures are being taken to deal effectively with various population issues including an unbalanced ratio between the number of boys and girls born, a rapidly growing elderly society, and increasing demands for reproductive healthcare.

And a low birth rate remains a difficult task for some time into the future in the world's most populous country, said Zhao Baige, vice-minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

Moreover, population development is still being challenged by other problems, "which require us to strengthen research into population strategy and take effective measures immediately," Zhao said.

Zhao made these remarks at a news conference held by the Information Office of the State Council Thursday.

Zhao's commission is undertaking a national "Girl Care" project to educate people to give up their traditional preference for male children.

The hope is to gradually change the nation's unbalanced birth ratio, which is currently 117 boys to 100 girls born.

Additionally, parents who have two girls, as well as one-child parents and those with a disabled child, will be given 1,200 yuan (US$144) by the central government annually when they reached 60 years old in some rural pilot project areas.

The pilot project is expected to be spread to all of China next year.

This project will also help China to set up a comprehensive social assurance system for helping one-child families better look after parents in an aging society.

According to statistics in 2000, China has 88.3 million people over 65, who account for 7 per cent of the total population.

In Chinese rural areas, the majority of the old parents still depend on support from their children instead of an unestablished national social assurance system.

In keeping the birth rate low, China has employed a "multivariate" family planning policy for the past 30 years, instead of just one-child policy in all areas, she noted.

Generally, urban families can only bear one child; rural parents, whose first child is a girl, can have the another child.

And mothers of minority nationalities can give birth to three children or even more. For example, in Tibet Autonomous Region, there are no birth limitations at all, Zhao said.

In terms of contraception for family planning, the government does not force people to co-operate, but fully respect their human rights.

China has 240 million women of childbearing age, 83 per cent of whom take various contraception methods for family planning. It would be unimaginable for the government to enforce family planning on so many people, Zhao added.

The induced abortion rate in China is 28 per cent, similar to 25 per cent in the United States.

Women in the country have various options of contraception, according to their own willing.

About 48 per cent women wear intrauterine devices, 36 per cent have tubal ligation surgery, and the majority of the rest take oral contraceptives or have partners who use condoms.

"I am so glad that I can choose contraceptive methods by myself, taking the pills instead of having an operation, which might be quite simple but makes me scared," said Zhang Guanglian, a 35-year-old woman in Zhulu Town of Junan County of East China's Shandong Province.

With a 10-year-old daughter, Zhang was allowed to bear her second child, a boy, two years ago.

Meanwhile, migrant people, the total number of whom has reached nearly 140 million, are getting more equal rights in employment, insurance, health care and children's education, especially in big cities including Beijing and Shanghai, Zhao noted.

And the commission's 120,000 reproductive health technicians and one million female volunteers for family planning, will play a vital role in preventing the HIV virus from spreading through sexual contact and mother-to-infant channels.

China has 840,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers and is witnessing an annual rate of increase of 32 per cent.

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