Changes to the family planning policy are being considered, and action plans have been drawn up, amid a graying society and other demographic challenges, according to a former minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.
The commission and other population research institutes have handed in assessment reports and action plans concerning policy change to the government, Zhang Wei-qing, director of the Population, Resources and Environment Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, told China Daily.
According to Zhang, one of the key areas of possible change will concern the criteria for urban couples having a second child.
At present, only parents who are themselves an only child are allowed to have a second child.
Under the proposed changes, couples will be able to have a second child even if one of them is not an only child.
“China’s population policy has always taken into account demographic changes but any fine-tuning to the policy should be gradual and consider the situation in different areas,” Zhang said
The relaxed policy might first be implemented in more economically productive regions that are facing greater demographic challenges, especially an aging population and a large influx of migrant workers, he said.
And places that have implemented the country’s family planning policy well might also be chosen initially.
The national fertility rate (the average number of children a woman has during her lifetime) stands at about 1.7, far below the replacement level of 2.1.
“Even with the policy further relaxing, there won’t be any sharp rise in the population,” Zhang said, adding that an ideal fertility rate should be at least 1.8.
President Hu Jintao said in the report of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China this month that “we must adhere to the basic state policy of family planning, improve the health of newborns, steadily improve the population policy and promote long-term and balanced population growth”.
Observers said it was the first time that “maintaining low reproduction levels” had been omitted, representing the central government’s wish to ease the policy.
Government policy in the early 1970s was that two (children) were preferred.
That gradually changed in the early 1980s to become a one-child rule in urban areas.
Starting in 1984, the rules began to be relaxed.
“We can see that the population policy was always diversified and dynamic,” Zhang noted. “So the coming fine-tuning to the one-child rule is just a step forward to improve the policy,” he explained.
Lu Jiehua, a social-demographics professor at Peking University and a member of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, agreed.
“I think the government will take action next year and the changes are inevitable given the increasingly complicated population problems ranging from ageing to a massive migrant population, and the huge gender gap,” he said.
But whether it will be a universal change or introduced in selected pilot projects remains to be seen, he noted.
But he also conceded that the fertility rate will hardly return up to 2 and “in the coming 20 years, family planning on the mainland will remain dominated by the government rather than the family itself,” he said.
“But a universal two-child policy appears to be a future trend,” he expected.
However, easing the policy alone will not fix all the demographic problems, he noted.
Zhang echoed the sentiment adding that “other issues, like facilitating the migrant population in cities and largely improving the overall health of newborns have to be addressed as well as facilitating healthy population development”.