One problem facing the world’s most populated country is how to maintain population growth.
Two years after China abandoned its one-child policy, the number of new-born babies has shown no signs of rebounding.
So now the Peoples’ Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, is trying to raise the issue of fertility to national agenda status.
In an article entitled “Let people have the courage and willingness to have a second child”, the newspaper suggests that giving birth to children is not just a family matter. It is a matter of national importance.
After decades of tremendous economic growth, China’s future is threatened by an ageing population, the article suggested.
As such, the Party mouthpiece declares, the problem can be alleviated not just through family awareness, but also by a better system.
According to the National Statistic Bureau, new born babies in 2017 totaled 17.23 million, down from 17.86 million a year earlier.
The two-child policy generated an increase in the number of second children to 8.83 million, up 22% from 7.21 million, but the number of first children in the same period was down to 7.24 million, a decrease of 2.49 million, or about 25%.
Why would the number of children decrease in the wake of the easing of the much-resented one child policy? The answer may be in the cost of raising children, particularly the cost of education in major cities, which has shown a steady increase in recent times.
For example, the cost of raising a child in Hong Kong is as high as HK$5 million (US$ 641,000), and the costs in first-tier mainland cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangdong are thought to be similar.
Some feel that there remains a need for further-improved incentives to have children in China. Already 31 provinces have extended the mandated 98 days of maternity leave to between 138 and 158 days. It is now increasingly common for men to be granted paternity leave of up to 30 days.
In addition, more financial allowances and medical services are being extended to families with a second child.
But faced with doomsday scenarios based on a steadily ageing population placing an ever-growing burden on the national economy, perhaps China should have done more, sooner.