10/21/2015, 00.00
CHINA
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Chinese experts want one-child policy scrapped to avoid system collapse

China’s decision-making body will set the tone for the country’s economic and social development in the next five years. A number of leading think tanks call for an end to the one-child policy in a secret report to avoid labour shortages and pension system bankruptcy. But for one scholar, “It's … already too late".

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Chinese government must immediately end its stringent one-child policy to maintain economic growth and social stability, this according to some of China's top think tanks.

The latter recently submitted a report to the Communist Party's decision-making body ahead of its meeting this month to set the tone for the country’s economic and social development in the next five years. Some experts warn that a demographic crunch might have devastating impact on the country.

An academic, who did not want to be named, told the South China Morning Post that the report was based on a survey jointly conducted by several institutes, including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Renmin University and a think tank under the national family planning office.

Indeed, "There is already a consensus among China's demographers that the limits should be relaxed," said Wang Feng, a demographer with the University of California, Irvine, and a guest professor at Fudan University. "It's … already too late to be doing so."

Since 1979 China has implemented - often violently – its one-child policy in order to boost the country’s economic development. Under the policy, rural residents and members of ethnic minorities are allowed to have two children if the first is a daughter. The policy has often been implemented with excessive force, including hefty fines, forced sterilisation and near-term abortions.

In 2013 and 2014, the government “loosened” its policy to let some couples (those in which at least one spouse is an only child) have a second child, expecting 20 million new births in 2014. In fact, only 16.9 million babies were born. By May this year, only 1.45 million couples – out of 11 million eligible ones – had applied to have a second child.

The figures reflect a surprisingly low level of interest. This, experts say, stems not only from the decades-old policy designed to curb the birth rate, but also from the rising cost of living and low paying jobs that make large families a near impossibility for most people.

No wonder then that the mainland's birth rate is 1.18 children for every couple – significantly lower than the global average of 2.5.

Population decline has affected Chinese society by creating a gender gap due to asymmetrical abortion practices that favour boys, and touched the country’s economy by reducing its labour pool and overburdening its pension system.

For one anonymous analyst, this is “something the government has to deal with urgently”.

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