UPDATED: June 2, 2021, 11:21 IST
China wants its citizens to produce more babies but the response from the public has been lukewarm. China has registered declining childbirth in recent years despite a sustained government campaign.
A reversal of the current birth trend is central to China’s economic plans. With that in mind, the Chinese government has now announced a three-child policy permitting a couple to have three children.
Curiously, China has a different population policy in Xinjiang, the Chinese province with the highest concentration of Muslims. Reports say Xinjiang has recorded a sharp decline in the fertility rate since 2017 when China imposed strict birth control measures in the province.
China introduced a one-child policy in 1979. Back then, China’s huge population was considered to be the biggest impediment to the country’s economic growth. The policy was fiercely enforced, and violators were fined, ousted from jobs, and forced to undergo abortions and sterilisation.
The population control strategy worked well for China as it used the existing workforce to build and run factories. Over the next 20 years, China turned into a global manufacturing hub. Cheaper labour became China’s core economic strength.
However, by 2000, China realised that it was heading towards a situation where its workforce (read: young, able-bodied people) would reduce considerably while the population of senior citizens would become unviable.
Currently, with 26.4 crores above the age of 60, China has nearly 19 per cent elderly in its 1.41 billion population. It estimates that by 2025, one in every five persons in China will be above 60 years.
While the fertility rate in China declined sharply after it imposed its one-child policy, improvement in healthcare facilities saw a life-expectancy increase from under-68 in 1979-80 to near-78 in 2020. This means China is bound to have more people requiring social-economic care.
But there is a problem. Its fertility rate stands at 1.3 — much below the replacement level of 2.1. Acknowledging this problem, China in 2000 relaxed its one-child policy.
In 2000, China allowed a couple to have a second child, if both were the only children of their respective parents.
In 2013, China relaxed it further to allow couples to have a second child if the first child was a single child of their parent. Both relaxations failed to have the desired results.
In 2015, China completely scrapped its one-child policy. All couples were allowed to have a second child.
In 2016, China recorded the fastest birth rate since 2001 with 12.95 births per 1,000 people. In 2016, 1.78 crore babies were born in China.
But in 2017, the number of births dropped to 1.72 crores in China, declining further to 1.52 crore in 2018, 1.46 crore in 2019 and little over 1 crore in 2020 — a drop of over 31 per cent compared to 2019 in the Covid-19 pandemic-hit year.
The point is, as demographic experts say, Chinese couples do not seem to want to produce more babies. The long socio-political conditioning of the Chinese people and the constantly growing costs of raising a child are among the reasons preventing couples from going for more children.
The long birth control policy also meant that the number of women entering childbearing age is actually declining in China. A Global Times report in January 2020 said, “The number of women of childbearing age in China is decreasing by about 5 million every year in recent years.”
The growing elderly population, declining number of childbearing women and shrinking working population base translate into an increased burden on the communist government for pension, healthcare, and social security services. This is why China has now announced a three-child policy.