China eases the one-child policy

Posted: 25 January 2007

Recent reports from official sources in China claim that the country's one-child policy has averted some 400 million births, but that China is still expected to add 200 million people to its population in the next 30 years. Now, the government has announced that the one-child policy will be seriously modified.

Detailing a new five-year plan, the Minister for Population Planning, Zhang Weiqinghe said China now has a "multi-dimensional policy", a bureaucratic way of explaining a gradual loosening of the family planning laws, particularly in rural areas.

Reporting on these changes, Rowan Callik of the Associated Press, says that parts of China where the one-child policy remains, including major centres such as Beijing and Shanghai, comprise just 35.9 per cent of the population.

Most of the population - 52.9 per cent - are permitted to have a second child when the couple's first child is a girl.

A further 9.6 per cent of Chinese are permitted two children, regardless of gender, while 1.6 per cent - chiefly Tibetans - have no limit.

The new plan says that "since families that practise family planning have made their contributions to the whole country, the Government should enable such families to enjoy priority in sharing the fruits of reform and development".

Special pension

For instance partners who each come from a one-child family are allowed to have two children, in all but six largely rural provinces - in which only one partner needs to come from a one-child family to permit a second child.

In some provinces, parents with one child or two girls will now be entitled to a special pension of $100 per person per year to partly compensate them for the lack of sons to support them once they reach 60.

Mr. Zhang said that the plan aimed to stabilise China's fertility rate at about 1.8 children per couple, while also addressing the imbalance in the ratio of boys to girls.

He said this ratio was about 1.18:1, and was still widening as access to ultrasound testing -- leading to the abortion of girls -- increases, a development that ''presents a very severe challenge to the Government''.

He called for "very strict punishment for abortions which have no medical purpose".

In a separete report the Associated Press news agency says the government now forecasts that China's population will surge by 200 million in 30 years. It also warns that China could face `tensions` arising out of a large population with limited resources.

The government says the implementation of the family-planning policy in 1973 led to China's birth rate remaining at about 1.8 in the mid and late 1990s.

If calculated by the birth rate of 1.8, China's population will reach 1.36 billion by 2010 and 1.45 billion by 2020. The peak time will come in 2033 with a total population of 1.5 billion, the report says.

The report predicts that China will face increased tensions caused by conflict between a large population and limited resources. By the end of 2016, China will have a labour force of 1.01 billion aged between 15 and 64, far exceeding the total number of workers in all developed countries.

The report points out that despite the sufficient quantity, many of China's workers will not be qualified for international competition due to the low quality of health and educational status.

These problems have affected social development and harmony, the efficiency of resource use and the comprehensive competitiveness of the nation, Xinhua news agency quoted the official report as saying.

Source: Associated Press 24 Janury, 2007 and other Bureau reports.