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A two-child policy for the future

Updated: 2014-08-17 13:58
By Mu Guangzong (China Daily Europe)


Population growth needs to be stable but we should not fear a baby boom

Editor's Note: So far 29 municipalities, provinces and autonomous regions have introduced the policy of allowing couples, of whom one is an only child, to have two children, since the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress endorsed the policy late last year. Under the new policy about 11 million couples are eligible to have another child. But given China's increasing grey population, it is facing another question: whether it should further ease the family planning policy to fully implement a two-child policy.

At present, China implements different family planning policies toward different groups: At first only couples where both parties are an only child could give birth to a second child; now if either the husband or the wife is an only child they can have a second child. But the authorities say there is no timetable to further ease the population policy to allow all couples to have two children. It is obviously policy discrimination that goes against social fairness.

If China implemented age-specific family planning reform to allow older women to have a second child first, and younger women later, it could possibly alleviate the phenomenon of fertility accumulation and be more acceptable to the public. Late childbirth is not good for both mothers and children. Even if the authorities adjust the population policy, some post-1970s women may not choose to give birth again.

The current differential family planning policies not only create social unfairness, but also sacrifice the country's significant strategic opportunities.

We should be aware that China now has an ultra-low fertility rate due to both population policy and individual desires.

During the fifth population census in 2000, the average fertility level of Chinese women of childbearing age had dropped to 1.22. In 2010, the figure dropped further, to 1.18. China shows a worryingly persistent ultra-low fertility trend. After implementing its strict family planning policy over the past three decades, there are at least 150 million one-child high-risk families in China, which severely undermines the tradition in China of the family supporting aged people.

Nowadays there is a special disadvantaged group in China: elderly parents who have lost their only child and become desperate and helpless. China has become a demographic risk society. Population loss and a shortage of labor have also gradually appeared. In 2012, the working-age population between 15 and 59 years old shrank by 3.45 million from the previous year, and in 2013 it further shrank by 2.44 million, which is a result of the long-term low fertility.

To protect families' interests and curb the declining population trend, China should change its family planning policy to encourage families to have a second child. On the one hand, the authorities should reduce the number of high-risk, one-child families by encouraging citizens to have at least two children. On the other hand, population security is the starting point of a population strategy for national security, which is a significant component of national power. This requires not only balanced, coordinated and sustainable development, but also the ability to resist risks. Hence we should guarantee a strategic reserve of young people, and ensure there is a moderate population growth to ensure an adequate labor supply and pool of talent.

China should worry about its current low fertility rate, rather than a population rebound.

China's family planning policy has formed a kind of internal power: birth control has become Chinese people's basic lifestyle. As the cost of rearing children continues to increase, young couples prefer later marriages, later childbirth and fewer children. Even if the authorities allow all families to have a second child, the fertility rate will probably be lower than 1.5. Fluctuations in a country's fertility rate are a normal demographic phenomenon; even if it rebounds it is impossible that the fertility rate will surpass the population replacement level.

Many surveys show that a majority of families who claim to want "more children" only want to have two. The problem is that more and more young couples only want one child. These couples surpass the number of couples who want more children.

With rapid urban development and modernization, the cost of raising children is becoming higher and higher. Even now the authorities have relaxed the family planning policy to allow couples where either the husband or wife is an only child to have a second child, many qualified families are hesitating to make this decision. China has undoubtedly fallen into the trap of endogenous low fertility. Even if the authorities allow all couples to have a second child, the fertility rate will be under the population replacement level, which is determined by the principles of population transformation and childbirth transformation.

One difficulty of family planning policy reform is that China still has a perception of its population as a burden. Yet, population is the matrix of manpower and talent, and is the most valuable resource as it has activity, creativity and reproductivity. China should correct its conception of population to appreciate the value, advantage, power and contribution of people.

The right to reproduce is a basic human right, and public power should protect rather than trample upon private rights. Children are the hope for both families and the country, therefore, population growth is the growth and accumulation of hope.

Population growth should be balanced and sustainable. We should welcome rather than be afraid of a baby boom, because it could effectively resist three major risks: population loss, population decline and an unbalanced population. The challenges baby boom may bring to public resources and public services could be coped with.

The author is a professor at the Population Research Institute of Peking University. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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