China Urbanization and Hukou Reform and the One Child Policy Reforms are keys to China’s Demographic Future

Here is a collection of articles that give a snapshot look at what is going on with China urbanization , hukou reform and one child policy relaxation and the future of those policies.

1. CNN reports on China’s urbanization and Hukou (urban passport and social service access) reform.

The government recently announced planned reforms of the household registration system, or “hukou,” to gradually allow qualified migrants to receive benefits like education and healthcare in their new homes.

“Slowly, starting from small cities to medium towns then to larger cities, they’re loosening up the registration requirements,” says Peggy Liu, founder of JUCCCE, a Shanghai-based non-profit dedicated to sustainable development in China.

“In certain cities like Shanghai you can have a points system to actually buy into the hukou system.”

China is taking small steps toward complete reform by 2020 because of specific concerns about the impact of a fully opened hukou system.

If land reform moves too quickly, China will lose its unique buffer for unemployment — the migrant workers’ rural homes, where they can always go back to if they lose their jobs.

An unemployed migrant population lingering in the cities poses a threat to stability. That is Beijing’s fear.

2. The New York Times looks at Shanghai academic testing and “missing” 15 year old children

Shanghai, a city of 24 million, reports only slightly more than 100,000 15-year-olds, a number similar to that reported in Portugal and Greece, countries with less than half Shanghai’s population.

“Where did all of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds go?” Mr. Loveless asked.

His answer is that China’s restrictions on internal migration are to blame. Shanghai has a migrant population of 10 million, about 40 percent of its total population. Because of the country’s household registration system, known as the hukou system, which ties access to subsidized education and health care to hometowns, migrants do not enjoy the same access to Shanghai’s schools and hospitals as local residents.

Currently, migrant children can enroll in selected primary and middle schools in Shanghai, up through the ninth grade. However, around the age of 15, most children must return to their hometowns to attend high school, which runs from 10th to 12th grade. They can take the gaokao, the national university entrance exam, only in their home provinces, according to the current hukou policy.

Such restrictions drive migrant children out of the city as early as primary school, statistics show. In a chart provided by Kam Wing Chan, professor of geography at the University of Washington and an expert on Chinese migration, the percentage of migrant children out of the total child population in Shanghai declines steadily in each age bracket starting at age 8. It picks up again at the age of 16, as migrants, having completed middle school in their home provinces, swarm to Shanghai seeking jobs.

The migrant children who do stay in school tend to come from more prosperous families, with better-educated parents. The result, he said, is a school system that gradually filters out the most disadvantaged children, accentuating Shanghai’s education status as “the cream of China.”

3. The Daily Beast reports on changing attitudes to girl babies in China

With China set to relax its one-child policy, experts say the stigma against daughters is fast disappearing even in rural areas.

According to the updated version of China’s new one-child policy, formalized by the country’s top legislative committee in the final days of 2013, couples in which one parent is an only child are now permitted to have a second child. Rural couples whose first child is a girl are also entitled to a second, presumably so they can try for a much-coveted boy, which is particularly important in areas where men are needed to do the heavy lifting.

“The value of girls and status of women have increased tremendously,” said Vanessa Fong, an Associate Professor at Amherst College. “And, ironically, it is partly due to the one-child policy. Families that have a bias against daughters obviously don’t have daughters, and ensure they have sons. But that also means that families with only one girl are supportive of their daughter, and invest heavily in her education and future.”

China’s mass urbanization, while not without its many pitfalls, might also have helped to increase the status of women. Traditionally, people had to find spouses outside of their own village, with women moving to her husband’s village. “Without cars or regular buses between villages, a daughter would rarely see her natal family after marriage, and lose the emotional attachment and the ability to care for her aging parents,” said Fong. In an urban environment, however, both sets of parents are accessible, making it easier for daughters to care for their parents. Today the gender imbalance is smaller in urban areas, where women are also in higher demand for jobs related to international tourism.

More good news: Experts agree that infanticide and abandonment is way down, partly because of lower fertility rates, partly because of technology that allows for selective abortion and partly because families are continuing to find ways to keep over-quota children, who are often daughters. Today, adopted daughters are in such high demand domestically.

So what will happen if the one-child policy, which has already been loosened, is reversed outright, or changed to a simple two-child policy as some have suggested?

“It’s hard to say,” said Fong. “But let’s put it this way. Once people believe daughters can do as well or better than sons, how much of that attitude is really reversible? I don’t think you can force a genie back in a bottle.”

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