05/20/2004, 00.00
China
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Aging Shanghai amends family planning legislation

More couples can now have a second child to help rejuvenate Shanghai's aging population.

Shanghai (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Out of a population of roughly 17 million inhabitants, 2.5 million or 18% are over the age of 60. By 2030 it is projected that this percentage will nearly double to 32%, as a direct consequence of the population control legislation in effect in Shanghai, China's most rapidly aging city whose death rate has been higher than its birth rate for the past 11 years.

The alarming "collateral effect" of such legislation has led Shanghai authorities to "soften" strict measures in force regarding the "one-child only" policy first introduced in 1978 during the Deng Xiaoping administration. Since then such family planning laws have been imposed across China, while adapted to various local situations. 

The one-child maximum has been in force in Shanghai since 1982. However a new government measure was finally passed in 2002 to allow certain couples to have rights to a second child. THe local innitiative aimed at increasing the number of youth to be able to assist an increasing elderly population.

Based on the latest amendments to family planning law, Shanghai authorities aim to raise the number of babies born to 165,600 by 2009 –almost double the 86,000 infants born in 2003. In Shanghai the average child per woman ratio was 4.75 in the 1950s, 2.83 in the 1960s; and 1.44 in the 1970s. Currently, Shanghai's fertility rate stands at an extreme low: 0.8%, far from the 2.1% necessary to ensure the so-called "replacement threshold" or positive population rate of growth.

Many couples can now have a second child without suffering penalties or government sanctions. These included remarried couples who have another child from a previous marriage; couples hailing from single child families; and couples formed by one who has a severe handicap preventing him or her from working (for now, the latter is in effect only in rural communities).

Moreover, legislation forcing couples to wait 4 years prior to having a second child has been recently struck down (exceptions include cases where the first-born is retarded or handicapped).

According to Xia Yi, director of the Shanghai Population Control and Family Planning Commission, the new laws do not imply a change of policy. "Despite Shanghai's population having gone down in the last 10 years and that we have the country's most serious aging problem, legislation still does not encourage (citizens) to have more children," Xia said.  (MR)

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