China has taken the first step towards ending its controversial one-child policy by encouraging urban couples in Shanghai to have two children.
By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
The easing of restrictions comes in response to concern about economic problems caused by the country’s ageing population.
Shanghai is actively promoting the two-child policy as China tries to defuse a demographic time bomb caused by a shortage of young workers after 30 years of tough population growth restrictions.
China’s one-child policy undermined by the richThe policy shift in the large coastal city marks the first time since 1979 that officials have actively encouraged parents to have more children.
If they are both single children themselves, husbands and wives in Shanghai are allowed to have two children.
While they have technically been allowed to do so before, the couples are now the target of a city-wide campaign to persuade them to make use of their extra allowance.
They will receive home visits and leaflets to promote the benefits of a second child.
The city government is worried about the rapidly rising number of elderly people and the resulting burden and drag on the Chinese economy.
“We advocate eligible couples to have two kids because it can help reduce the proportion of ageing people and alleviate a workforce shortage in the future,” said Xie Lingli, the head of Shanghai’s family planning commission, to the China Daily newspaper.
The policy shift will prove popular. A recent survey released by the Shanghai family planning commission showed that more than half of 4,800 respondents, aged between 20 and 30, said would like a second child if the one-child policy was eased.
China’s one-child policy was originally designed to make sure the huge country’s population remained at a manageable size, given the country’s relatively low water, energy and food resources.
Experts predicted earlier this week that there will be zero growth in China’s population of 1.3 billion people by 2030.
The US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies warned in April that mainland China will have more than 438 million people older than 60 by 2050, with more than 100 million aged 80 and above.
The country will then have a population ratio of 1.6 working-age adults to support every person aged 60 and above, as compared with 7.7 in 1975.
Shanghai’s over-60 population already numbers more than three million, or more than one-fifth of residents. But that proportion is expected to rise to around one-third by 2020.
In China, the number of citizens over 65 is forecast to more than treble from 106 million today to 329 million by 2040. This will hugely increase the cost of pensions and impose a major constraint on the future growth of China’s economy.
Some economists have predicted that the stellar growth rates which have buoyed China’s economy will become impossible with so many people set to leave the working population.
The demographic crisis has been compounded by government population policy which is estimated to have resulted in the birth of 400 million fewer people.
Population forecasts have shown that if the current one-child policy continues China’s children of today, at the time of marriage in 20 years, could face the task of taking care of four parents and as many as eight grandparents.
At last week’s Venice Biennale, Chinese artist Xing Xin has locked himself in a iron box for 49 days to protest at the one child policy which has long been criticised on human rights grounds.