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News, July 2021
China Offers Baby Bonuses, with Births on Track for New Low in 2021
SCMP, July 21, 2021
China offers baby bonuses, with births on track for new low in 2021
Authorities dangle a range of support to defray education and child care costs But officials caution that fertility decisions are complex and the short-term goal is to smooth out the decline in births
Zhuang Pinghui in Beijing + FOLLOW
Published: 7:00pm, 21 Jul, 2021
China will roll out a range of support to encourage couples to have more children but health authorities are cautious about prospects for a baby boom, with the number of births expected to hit a new low this year.
The measures – ranging from lower childbirth and education costs to the abolition of some birth control penalties – follows the Communist Party’s decision in May to relax the country’s two-child policy to allow couples to have three children .
Yu Xuejun, deputy minister of the National Health Commission, said on Wednesday that based on the figures for the first half of 2021, “the number of births and fertility levels will still trend lower this year”.
“At the same time, the population continues to age and there will be pressure to establish long-term balanced population development,” Yu said.
China expands two-child policy to three
The number of newborns peaked at 17.8 million in 2016 but has fallen since then, reaching a five-decade low of 12 million last year.
introduced the two-child policyin 2016 in reaction to the rapid greying of the population and the shrinking number of people of working age but the public’s response has been tepid, partly because of the heavy financial burden of raising children and the lack of government and social support.
The policies unveiled by the party and the State Council on Tuesday are also aimed at rebalancing the newborn sex ratio in 2025.
Yang Wenzhuang, head of an NHC department in charge of families and children, said long-term monitoring, surveys and studies indicated that on average people were prepared to have fewer than two children.
Yang said his department would focus on introducing policies to actively encourage more births.
“This time, the central government has clearly put forward supporting measures and a three-child birth policy as an overall package, considering factors such as marriage, childbirth, upbringing and education as a whole,” he said.
The measures include reducing the cost of giving birth, raising a child and education; and abolishing the country’s notorious fines for violating birth control policies, which in some cases could be up to eight times a person’s annual income. Authorities will also sever links between the number of children in a family and household registration, school enrollment and employment.
Primary and middle schools will have to extend the school day by at least two hours five days a week to reflect the needs of working parents.
Half a million low-cost child care places will be added in 150 cities and at least 90 per cent of the children of kindergarten age will have places by 2025. Nursery schools for children under 3 years old will be expanded from 1.8 per 1,000 people to 4.5.
How much does it cost to raise a child in China?
But the deputy health minister was cautious about whether the three-child policy would create a “significant population uplift”, saying demographics were influenced by many factors.
“Fertility decisions are complex,” Yu said.
“In the short term, we are hoping to unleash the fertility potential and smooth out the decline in births.
“In the long run, the key is whether these proactive fertility support measures can be implemented well, something that requires the joint efforts and active support of all sectors and parties in all parts of China.”
Ella Shi, 33, an office worker and mother-of-one in Suzhou in the eastern province of Jiangsu, said she was determined to not have a second child – “not even if more policies are introduced”.
“I think only rich people will have three or more,” she said.
She said her child was still in kindergarten and had six extracurricular classes during the summer, including basketball, dance and piano – a schedule that was tiring for the parent.
“It’s enough for us to experience what it’s like to be parents by raising one child, so why have more? We still have our own lives, we can’t be taken over wholly by children. And there are four elderly people to support. It’s too much pressure,” Shi said.
Bi Xia, 34, a civil servant living in the central province of Henan and mother of two children, said the exhaustion of raising two children made her not so keen on having a third, but she would see what support was offered.
“If there is three years of maternity leave for having a child, and if I don’t have to work and still get paid normally, I’m willing to have a dozen kids,” she said.
“It’s too tiring. Now my children are raised mainly by their grandparents. I take care of them at night, which is less stressful ... but still tiring.
“It’s [also] hard to get into a school anywhere.”
Bi said her daughter would soon start primary school and she and her family had to queue at 2am one morning to register.
“Children are very lovely, but I really do not have the money or energy to have a third for the time being.”
Yu, from the NHC, said even though the country’s labour pool was shrinking – with the number of people aged 15 to 69 years falling to 890 million last year from a record 940 million in 2011 – China still had a sizable labour force and was reaping a “talent dividend”.
“The population dividend [for the economy development] will grow weaker as the population greys,” he said.
“China’s workforce is beginning to decline, but the quality of the workforce has improved dramatically, and it can be said that the time has come for a talent dividend,” he said, adding the number of people with a university degree had grown from 46 million in 2000, to 120 million in 2010 and 218 million last year.
Despite the fall in the number of newborns, China’s population is growing – just at a slower rate as life expectancy rises. Last year the population grew by 3 per cent.
Based in Beijing, Zhuang Pinghui joined the Post in 2004 to report on China. She covers a range of issues including policy, healthcare, culture and society.China offers baby bonuses, with births on track for new low in 2021 | South China Morning Post (scmp.com)
China population: millennial couples decry ‘unaffordable’ childcare as fertility rate falls 1 Jun 2021
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