Births rose by 11.5 per cent in 2016 over 2015. However, child-rearing costs against low family incomes are not likely to stop the rapid aging of the population.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The number of China’s newborns last year shows that the two-child policy – in effect since 1st January 2016 – is working, this according to the government’s Health and Family Planning Commission (HFPC).
More than 18.46 million babies were born in mainland hospitals in 2016 – 11.5 per cent more than 2015, the highest since the record of 2000, said Yang Wenzhuang, a HFPC division director.
Although these numbers are still below previous estimates, China’s family planning agency believes that allowing every Chinese couple to have two babies could push annual new births up to 20 million.
In 1979 China adopted a one-child policy in order to focus on the nation's economic development. Implementation has often been violent, with huge fines on violators and even forced sterilisation and near-term abortions.
In 2013 the government decided to ease restrictions to allow some couples (those with at least one spouse who is an only child) to have a second baby.
Thanks “to the adjustment and improvement of the birth policy, the birth rate is growing steadily,” Yang said, adding that last year, because of the two-child policy, the number of second children born on the mainland accounted for more than 45 per cent of total births.
Demographer Yuan Xin, of Nankai University, expects the number of annual births to peak in 2017 and 2018 at about 20 million, as women born in the late 1970s and early 1980s rush to have a second child before they are too old.
Faced with an aging society and a shrinking workforce, Chinese authorities in 2013 decided to relax population controls by allowing couples to have a second child if one of the spouses was an only child.
“[Before] there were about 11 million couples with one partner who was an only child, but the universal two-child policy means 90 million couples are now eligible to have two children.”
As a result of this, the population is expected to rise to 1.45 billion by 2030, from 1.37 billion last year. Yet, experts warn that this will not be enough to reverse the rapid ageing of the population. Over 60s will make up 39 per cent of the population by 2050, compared with 15 per cent now.
Socio-economic reasons will dissuade many couples from having more than one child, demographers said. In fact, China's new policy makes little difference to people like Peng Yajun, a Guangdong office worker.
The soon-to-be-married 36-year-old woman only wants one child for economic reasons. "I'm an only child, I cannot afford school fees for two children and the cost of taking care of my ageing parents," she said.
On some estimates, raising a child on the mainland costs about 20,000 yuan (US$ 2,900) a year - more than 40 per cent of the average household income.