Chinese state media noted on Wednesday that at least one province in the country is considering offering financial rewards to couples to incentivize them to have children, following an unsuccessful campaign to increase the country’s birth rate that began with a loosening of the previous one-child policy.
Under Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, Chinese couples were formally allowed to have up to two children per family in 2015. Yet birth rates, expected to skyrocket with that announcement, have remained mostly stagnant and threaten to decline. According to an article in the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper this week, China could have only 65 percent of India’s population by 2050 if current birth rates continue the same, potentially causing a major economic crisis in the country.
In an effort to encourage couples to have more children, Party officials in northeast Liaoning Province are discussing ways to make it easier for couples to endure the financial burdens of having a child, the People’s Daily reported Wednesday.
“The provincial government will explore enacting policies to reward families who choose to have a second child to alleviate the burden in bearing and raising children, according to a guideline released late last month,” the newspaper stated. Among the potential benefits are tax breaks, help with education and housing, and “social welfare” programs. The initiative appears to be part of a study by China’s National Health Commission on how to increase birth rates and which incentives are most likely to work.
The Liaoning incentives follow the publication of a report in another Chinese government newspaper, the Global Times, last month announcing another experimental measure put in place in Jianxi province: limiting access to abortions. The Chinese government has imposed a policy of forced abortions on women for decades to keep with the one-child policy but, in Jianxi, government officials are adding more bureaucratic red tape to the process to see if it will trigger a decrease in abortions.
“The province’s Health and Family Planning Commission issued a notice recently saying that women who are pregnant for more than 14 weeks must have the signed approval of three medical professionals confirming that an abortion is medically necessary before any procedure,” the Global Times reported at the time.
That policy also appears to target pervasive gender selection problems with how and when Chinese parents choose to abort. Many Chinese parents prefer having sons to daughters and, knowing their chances of having a son are limited by the government’s upper limit on the number of children they can have, will abort daughters until they conceive a son. The result has been an enormous gender imbalance in the general population: 34 million more men than women in the general population as of this year. If abortions are harder to get approval for, some women may choose to avoid the hassle and keep an otherwise unwanted daughter.
Chinese officials claim that 13 million abortions are performed in the nation a year, though some estimates put the number as high as 23 million. And even with the two-child policy, China’s birth rate declined by 3.5 percent in the past year, according to government statistics – a combination of families not wanting more children and a significant shortage of women of child-bearing age compared to the men.
The People’s Daily noted this week that population decline is of particular concern to Beijing because it has one of the most populous countries on earth as its neighbor: India. According to an expert cited by the newspaper, without a complete end to Chinese government meddling in family sizes, China will have 65 percent of India’s population by 2050. India and China have grown increasingly into strategic rivals, as China holds territorial claims to Indian territory and has increasingly colonized waters in the South China Sea near India.
“China has entered a low fertility trap and that its aging population will impede economic development,” the expert, Yi Fuxian, told the newspaper.