China allows couples to have a third child to help offset the growth of the aging population

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Adults and children ride pedal bikes in a public park in Beijing on Saturday, August 21, 2021. China will now allow couples to have a third child as the country tries to stave off a demographic crisis that undermines its hopes for greater prosperity and global threats. (AP Photo / Mark Schiefebein)

BEIJING (AP) – China will now allow couples to legally have a third child in a bid to stave off a demographic crisis that could threaten its hopes for greater prosperity and global influence.

The ceremonial legislature on Friday amended the Population and Family Planning Act as part of a decade-long effort by the ruling Communist Party to dictate the size of families according to policy guidelines. It comes just six years after the last change.

From the 1980s onwards, China strictly restricted most couples to one child, a policy enforced with fines or job loss, resulting in abuse including forced abortions. Preferential treatment for sons resulted in parents killing little girls, creating a massive imbalance in gender ratios.

The rules were relaxed for the first time in 2015 to allow two children when officials recognized the looming consequences of the decline in the birth rate. The overwhelming fear is that China will get old before it gets rich.

China has long touted its one-child policy as a success in preventing 400 million additional births in the world’s most populous country, thus saving resources and stimulating economic growth.

However, in line with trends in South Korea, Thailand and other Asian economies, China’s birth rate fell even before the one-child rule. The average number of children per mother fell from over six in the 1960s to under three in 1980, according to the World Bank.

Meanwhile, the number of people of working age in China has decreased in the past decade and the population has barely increased, adding to the stresses in an aging society. A decade-long census found that the population rose to 1.411 billion people last year, 72 million more than in 2010.

Statistics show that 12 million babies were born in the past year, down 18% from 14.6 million in 2019.

Chinese over 60, 264 million, made up 18.7% of the country’s total population in 2020, 5.44 percentage points more than in 2010. At the same time, the working-age population fell from 70.1% to 63.3% of the total population before ten Years.

The move to the two-child rule caused the birth rate to rise temporarily, but it soon subsided and total births continued to decline as many women continued to choose not to have families.

Japan, Germany and some other affluent countries face the same challenge of having fewer workers to support the aging population. However, they can draw on investments in factories, technology, and foreign assets, while China is a middle-income country with labor-intensive agriculture and manufacturing.

At its meeting on Friday, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress lifted the alignment of fines for violating previous restrictions and called for additional resources for parental leave and childcare. New measures in the areas of finance, taxes, schooling, housing and employment should be introduced in order to “relieve the burden on families”, says the change.

It also aims to address long-standing workplace discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers, which, along with high costs and cramped housing, is one of the main obstacles to having additional children.

While the proportion of women in the labor force is high, women, especially those with children, are severely underrepresented at the higher levels and occupy only 8.4% of management positions at the central and provincial levels. Of the young party leaders who will take over the helm in the coming decades, only 11% are women.

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