On July 10, Chinese state media Xinhua announced that 29 of China’s 31 provinces have officially adopted what All Girls Allowed calls the “selective two-child policy”. The Chinese government announced this policy change last November, and on January 17, Zhejiang became the first province to ease the One-Child Policy in this way. Now the only regions that have not implemented the One-Child Policy change are Tibet and Xinjiang.
The selective two-child policy allows parents to have two children if one of the parents is an only child themselves. Previously, both parents had to be only children in order to be eligible to have a second child. The selective two-child policy is the first One-Child Policy amendment since 1984, when ethnic minorities, rural families whose first child was a girl, couples who were both only children, and couples in “special circumstances” were granted certain exemptions.
Another recent development was China’s decision to apply the selective two-child policy to all eligible military staff. On June 30, China announced that “army personnel, employees of military attached units, and non-active service civilian personnel” can have a second child if either parent is a “singleton”, or only child.
Most Chinese officials were concerned that a resource-depleting baby boom would follow the relaxation of the One-Child Policy. Wang Peian, deputy director of China’s Ministry of Health and Family Planning, estimated that the policy change would result in up to 2 million extra births per year. According to Chinese news outlet Caixin, Cai Fang, director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Population and Labor Economy, predicted that China could see up to 25 million more birth annually. In anticipation of a surge in births, several baby product companies increased their production in China. With 11 million more couples suddenly eligible to have two children, this kind of preparation was understandable.
The expected outcomes of the One-Child Policy changes have not yet materialized, however. Government restrictions and financial obstacles have made having a second child less appealing for many parents. Demography professor Mu Guangzong believes that the Chinese government has overestimated “the people’s motivation and resolve to have children.”
The policy change greatly multiplied the number of couples eligible to have a second child, but these couples are still required to apply for a government-sanctioned birth permit. Fearing an overwhelming surge in birth permit applications, many provinces made the process complex for parents seeking to have a second child. This has deterred many couples from pursuing a second birth permit. In some provinces, mothers must be over the age of 28 and have a gap of at least four years between their children if they wish to have a second child. In Chinese cities, the cost of child-rearing is another significant hindrance to having multiple children. The Economist reported that the cost of raising a child in the city is almost equal to China’s average yearly income. These are common reasons many parents are saying no to a second child.
What does this mean for China’s population? According to Xinhua news, of the 11 million eligible couples, only 271,600 have applied to get a second birth permit. Out of those couples, 241,300 have been granted permission to have another child. In Zhejiang, the first province to implement the policy change, 80,000 babies were expected to be born within the year. However, in the first four months after Zhejiang implemented the revised policy, only 2,444 babies were born. Now the Ministry of Health and Family planning expects that only 20,000 babies will be born this year under the new policy. So far, the predictions for the selective two-child policy have not come true. “There will not be a baby boom starting from this year.” Yin Wenyao, a professor at Zhejiang University said. “The pressures that include high housing costs and climbing consumer expenses will keep many from having a second child…”
The very births that China has tried to snuff out for the past three decades are what it desperately needs right now. A shrinking workforce, ageing population, and surplus of males are some of the demographic problems China is currently facing. The projected extra 2 million births per year would remedy some of these problems. Yong Cai, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the Washington Times that the extra births “would be a blessing to Chinese society”.
Demographers consider 2.1 children per woman as the “replacement level” fertility rate. China’s fertility rate is 1.6. “What we need to fear is not a baby boom threat but rather continued restrictions and low birth rates,” professor Mu Guangzong said. Yi Fuxian, a population expert at the University of Wisconsin, expressed the same sentiment. “If we continue to punish (families) that have many children and reward those having few children as we do now, later we won’t be able to effectively encourage child-rearing,” Yi stated, “and it will be very difficult to raise the birth rate.” Yi speculates that even if China were to completely remove family planning restrictions, the birth rate would ultimately remain low.
Many population experts are now saying that China’s policy changes are coming too little too late. For three decades, China has brutally controlled its population growth, but some experts are now saying that China may have to start offering incentives for births. Although China needs more babies, officials are reluctant to abolish the One-Child Policy completely. Government officials say there is no timeline for ending the One-Child Policy and that the selective two-child policy will likely remain in effect for the next five years.
Although China does not have a foreseeable plan to end the One-Child Policy, China’s family planning policies are receiving more criticism from the outside. As more nations condemn the One-Child Policy, pressure will build for China to end it. What is even more powerful than that, however, is prayer. China may not have a timeline for ending the One-Child Policy, but God does not operate on human timelines. To see change in China, we must earnestly pray and ask God to move on the hearts of China’s citizens and leaders so that they will know the value of life and the light of Christ. With God, all things are possible.
LifeNews Note: Emilie writes for All Girls Allowed.