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Nation addresses low fertility rate

By WANG XIAOYU | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-19 07:28
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Plans abandoned

Wang Sicheng, 37, who lives in Gansu province, said during an interview with Xinhua News Agency his family decided to scrap plans to have a second child because of the cost of education.

"My only child, who is 5, is now enrolled in eight off-campus classes, including Go chess, Lego and swimming. These classes cost about 60,000 yuan ($9,286) each year," he said.

Born in the countryside, Wang Sicheng never took such classes during childhood and briefly considered relieving his child of the burden. "However, everyone else is learning. If we do not follow suit, I am worried that my kid will fall behind," he said.

He and his wife had long concluded that one child had already imposed significant financial pressure on them and that they did not want to have another.

On Jan 1, 2016, China began implementing the second-child policy, officially ending a decadeslong rule allowing couples to have only one child.

However, like Wang Sicheng, a considerable number of families open to the idea of having two children had eventually given up. Of these families, 75 percent cited financial concerns as a key factor in their decision, the National Health Commission said, quoting a survey in 2019.

An online poll of some 30,000 participants, carried out from May 12 to June 11, also highlighted the mounting economic pressure.

The poll, conducted by news outlet ifeng, shows that housing prices, child-raising costs, education and medical expenses are among the top factors affecting respondents' decisions to have children.

Asked about measures that might increase their willingness to have children, financial support ranked the highest. Free kindergarten classes and preschool education, along with subsidies for child-raising, having a second child, and maternity services were also near the top of the list.

Yuan Xin, a professor of population studies at Nankai University in Tianjin, said: "According to an old saying in China, 'one more baby just means one more pair of chopsticks'. That pair used to be made of bamboo, now it is made of gold, and in the future it might be made of diamonds."

For many working mothers, finding sufficient time to take care of and connect with their children has become a problem.

Xu Rui, 29, a civil servant in Jiangsu, said that after discovering her 1-year-old daughter had minor heart defects, she decided to take her to Shanghai for treatment, even though this meant she had to miss work, sacrifice some of her leisure time and pay for costly medical treatment.

"At least my parents-in-law can help me raise her, so I can basically keep my life on track without overstressing," Xu said.

However, she sees herself as being in a precarious situation.

"Last year, my parents-in-law had to leave for a short period to look after their parents. The pressure suddenly fell on me and my husband. If that happens again, one of us will have to take time off work to stay home and look after our child," she said. "It's like a butterfly effect, where a minor glitch could cause great disruption to our lives."

With people seeking a work-life balance, nursery services are in high demand, but such facilities remain unevenly distributed nationwide.

He Dan, head of the China Population and Development Research Center, said a survey led by the center showed that 30 percent of families with a child age 3 or younger are in need of child care services, but official data show that only 5 percent of such children are sent to nursery care facilities.

"Less than one-in-five nursery institutions are public or affordable for many people. Most of them are in the private sector and relatively expensive. It is estimated that less than one-third of families in need can afford them," she said.

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