In aging China, calls for ‘bold’ steps to be taken to cut the cost of having children

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A father plays with his two children on the outskirts of Shanghai, China June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Chinese health official has called on local governments to take “bold” steps to reduce the cost of childbirth and child rearing in order to reduce the burden on families and increase fertility. property, a state-backed publication reported on Friday.

China’s population shrank last year for the first time in six decades, data released last month showed, a historic turning point that is expected to mark the beginning of a prolonged period of decline.

Add to that the prospect of a rapidly aging population slowing the economy as revenue falls and government debt rises due to soaring healthcare and welfare costs. Demographers warn that China may be old before it gets rich.

Yang Wenzhuang, director of the National Health Commission’s (NHC) Population and Family Development Supervision Department, stressed the importance of family support to improve birth rates, the newspaper reported.

Yang says worries about women’s money and career development are the main factors that make people choose not to have children, adding that the right policies are needed to improve fertility.

“Local governments should be encouraged to actively explore and introduce bold innovations in reducing the costs of childbirth, child care and education” to promote long-term balanced growth of the population , Yang said.

China must “grasp the key window period of population growth” in its 14th five-year plan, which runs until 2025, to accelerate “the promotion of assisted reproduction,” he said.

Yang’s comments were published in the latest issue of the NHC-administered Health and Population magazine, the newspaper said.

China for decades preoccupied with the prospect of a rapidly growing population and imposed a strict one-child policy between 1980 and 2015 to control numbers.

But now the population has started to decrease and India is about to become the most populous country in the world.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics reports that the population will decline by about 850,000 from a population of 1.41175 billion in 2022, the first decline since 1961, the last year of the Great Famine in China.

Last year’s birth rate was just 6.77 births per 1,000 people, down from 7.52 births in 2021 and marking the lowest birth rate on record.

Much of the demographic decline is a result of the one-child policy and the high cost of education that makes many people reluctant to have more than one child or not at all.

UN experts predict China’s population will shrink by 109 million by 2050, more than three times the reduction compared to their previous forecast in 2019.

Some steps are being taken.

Health authorities in Sichuan province said in January that they would allow unmarried people to get married and enjoy the couple’s benefits from February 15.

Separately, several provinces including Shaanxi announced this week that they will give up to 5,000 yuan ($735.29) to sperm donors to promote sperm banks.

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