Telegraph UK – Three academics from the Development Research Centre of the State Council, an influential think-tank that advises China’s cabinet, called on authorities to consider “adjustments” to the law and the introduction of a two-child policy “as soon as possible”.
A policy change was needed in order to avert an impending labour shortage and to address issues that might arise from a rapidly ageing population, Ge Yanfeng, Yu Dong and Zhang Bingzi, argued in an article in the China Economic Times. “The longer we wait, the more vulnerable we will be.”
The policy came under renewed scrutiny last month after 22-year-old Feng Jianmei was forced to abort a seven-month fetus by local officials who claimed she had violated family-planning rules. She posted a photo of the aborted fetus that went viral.
Mr Liang, a demographer from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said he believed that growing discontent over issues such as forced abortion was a more urgent problem for Chinese authorities than the country’s ageing population.
In the photographs the young mother lies on a clinic bed, her hair obscuring her face. She appears as inert as the baby lying beside her. But 23-year-old Feng Jianmei is still alive, whereas her baby girl is not. The baby was killed while still in the womb by an injection arranged by local family-planning officials. They restrained Ms Feng, who was seven months pregnant, and then induced her to give birth to the dead baby.
Even three years ago, Ms Feng’s suffering might have gone unnoticed outside the remote village in the north-western province of Shaanxi where she lives—just another statistic in China’s family-planning programme. But her relatives uploaded the graphic pictures onto the internet, and soon microblogs had flashed them to millions of people across the country. Chinese citizens expressed their outrage online. It is not just the treatment of Ms Feng that they deplore. It is the one-child policy itself.
Another reason the hold of the one-child policy has been weakening is that it is so full of loopholes. In 2007 a family-planning official estimated that the one-child policy applied to less than 40% of the population. The right personal connections can secure discounts on fines. Couples in rural areas have long been allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl. Many other rules seem almost arbitrary. In Shanghai if either man or wife works in the fishing industry and has been going to sea for five years, the couple may have a second child without facing punishment.
But no loophole could help Feng Jianmei. On June 14th the provincial government apologised to Ms Feng, and said family-planning officials in Shaanxi would be fired. But that deals with the symptoms not the cause. “I had no money to pay the fine,” says her husband. “But does that mean we should suffer the grief of losing a child?”
In 1983, 14 million women had abortions organised by family-planning committees (many of them coerced). In 2009, there were 6 million. The number has declined in recent years as local officials have more incentives to impose fines on extra births rather than prevent them altogether.
”Easing birth control is no longer a moot point and it is a matter of utmost urgency,” Zhang Erli, a former senior official from the Family Planning Commission, told a conference in Beijing this April. ”If the current policy is not changed immediately, China will face an extremely serious labour shortage and ageing problems in 20 years’ time. The pressure on society will be unbearable.”
Mr Zhang said China’s fertility rate for the past 15 years was about 1.5, well below the replacement level of 2.1. The average annual population increase of six million during the same period was also significantly lower than the officially planned target of eight to 10 million, according to the website Caixin Media.
There is a growing consensus among population experts, economists and business people in China that the one-child policy is no longer suited to changing socio-economic conditions.
One of China’s foremost experts on population and a key government adviser, Cai Fang, says the country has already reached the Lewis turning point in 2010 – meaning China has exhausted its surplus rural labour and that the period of cheap industrial wages has ended.
China’s working-age population has fallen for the first time since 2002, from 74.5 per cent to 74.4 per cent, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics early this year.
A joint research report by Boston Consulting Group and big reinsurer Swiss Re says China’s working-age population will begin to fall by as early as 2015. They estimate the silver segment of the Chinese population, those aged 60 or over, will account for more than a third of the population by 2050.
Swiss Re warns of the significant risk of such a rapidly ageing society and says that in a worst-case scenario there ”would be a full-scale rupture of the country’s social security net”. However, there is no sign yet that Beijing plans to ease its one-child policy.
The head of the Family Planning Commission, Li Bin, said in an interview in November that China might not be able to relax its family planning policy in the foreseeable future due to country’s limited natural resources.
During the 12th five-year plan (2011-15), it would continue to implement its one-child policy, she said.