Couples in China can have up to three children, according to a new policy approved by President Xi Jinping at a meeting of top Communist Party officials. The decision was spurred by a steep decline in birth rates in the country of 1.41 billion. The party also pledged to beef up support for families but did not provide details.
China had scrapped its four-decades-old one-child policy in 2016. A two-child limit set thereafter failed to give an increase in birth rate since the cost of raising children in cities had deterred many Chinese couples. The rising cost of education, lack of sufficient day-care, the need to support aging parents, and the culture of long work hours have daunted couples from opting for more children.
According to Xinhua news agency, there will be “supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country’s population structure, fulfilling the country’s strategy of actively coping with an ageing population and maintaining the advantage, endowment of human resources”.
The country’s total fertility rate — an estimate of the number of children born over a woman’s lifetime — now stands at 1.3, well below the replacement rate of 2.1, raising the possibility of a shrinking population over time.
The one-child norm has been so ingrained in people’s minds that a change is unlikely soon. Since 1979, families caught flouting the rules had faced fines, loss of employment and sometimes forced abortions. It also led to female infanticide and under-reporting of female births as people preferred the one child to be a male.
“Governments have no business regulating how many children people have. Rather than ‘optimising’ its birth policy, China should instead respect people’s life choices and end any invasive and punitive controls over people’s family planning decisions,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, the Amnesty International China team head.
The shrinking and aging population has put the country’s economy at potential risks. The latest national census released in early May had shown a decline in the country’s working-age population over the last decade. China’s retirement age is 60 for men and 55 for women but on May 31, China said it would phase in delays in retirement ages.