11/03/2015, 00.00
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Chinese authorities warn couples to have two children only after new law is approved

Population agency warns provinces to “maintain good birth order” until the National People’s Congress amends the population law in a few months’ time.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission issued a statement today saying that local government agencies should “seriously carry out” the current population law to “maintain good birth order” until the newly announced policy is amended by the National People’s Congress in March 2016 at its annual session.

Last Thursday, the ruling Communist Party announced at its fifth plenary that it would end the controversial one-child policy introduced 36 years ago, which resulted in some 400 million abortions. Under the new policy, all couples can have two children, a step that for some experts is too little, too late, and still too restrictive.

The Commission, which manages billions of dollars in public money, has made it clear that new policy cannot be implemented until the National People’s Congress Standing Committee amends the Population and Family Planning Law.

Each province will then be able to draft its own implementation plan, which local people’s congresses will approve by adopting new family planning laws, usually in the first quarter of the year, when they hold their annual sessions. It is up to provincial authorities whether to punish couples who have an extra child in the transition period.

In 2013 and 2014, the government “loosened” its policy to let some couples (those in which at least one spouse was 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 of 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. This also explains that the mainland's birth rate is 1.18 children per couple – significantly lower than the global average of 2.5.

Population decline has affected Chinese society not only by creating a gender gap due to asymmetrical abortion practices that favour boys, but also by reducing its labour pool and overburdening its pension system, thus affecting the country’s overall economy. For one anonymous analyst, this is “something the government has to deal with urgently”.

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