China softens on one-child policy

Zhang Weiqing, head of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission, announced that the government will reduce fines for low-income couples who violate the country's one-child-per-family policy, the Washington Post reports (Fan, Washington Post, 1/24).

China's one-child-per-family policy seeks to keep the country's population, now 1.3 billion, at about 1.7 billion by 2050. Ethnic minorities and farmers are the only groups legally exempt from the rule nationwide. According to the family planning commission's "Strategic Research Report on National Population Development," the country's birthrate has decreased from 5.8 children per woman in the 1970s -- when the one-child policy was implemented -- to 1.8 children per woman currently. The report also predicts that China's population will peak at 1.5 billion people in 2033 (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 1/16). A survey conducted Monday by the China Youth Daily and the Web site found that 61% of respondents thought it was unfair that wealthy couples could afford to have more infants by paying the fines imposed, and one-third of the respondents thought officials should develop other punishments besides a fine. According to the Post, Zhang's announcement appeared to be part of an attempt to put a "more human face" on the government's "much-maligned" family-planning policies. "Rich people and poor people, they are all equal before the law," Zhang said, adding, "With very poor families, we may reduce part of the social compensation fee or waive the fee, depending on the actual situation." Ma Mingjie, director of the Social Research Center at China Youth Daily, said the government "really want[s] to take some effective measures to ease the tension" (Washington Post, 1/24).

Zhang on Tuesday also said the government is committed to solving the gender imbalance that has resulted from the one-child policy, the AP/Boston Globe reports (Olesen, AP/Boston Globe, 1/24). The one-child policy has led to a gender imbalance in the country because of a preference for male children. According to government statistics, about 117 boys are born for every 100 girls born in China, compared with an average of between 104 to 107 boys per 100 girls in industrialized countries (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 1/16). Zhang said the government will launch education campaigns, punish sex-selective abortions and provide rewards, such as retirement pensions, for couples who have girls. Bates Gill of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the pensions would help, but other financial incentives, such as paying for girls' school fees, would also need to be implemented. He added that the effects of such projects will take several years due to a lack of trust in the government (AP/Boston Globe, 1/24). According to Zhang, it might take 10 to 15 years before the proportion of males to females is balanced (Blanchard, Guardian, 1/24).

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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