Birth Curbs to Remain

But critics charge that China's one-child policy creates abuses and a gender imbalance.

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Women push babies in prams at a Beijing park, April 5, 2011.

Faced with a population of more than 1.3 billion as counted by its last census, China has vowed to keep in place its draconian family planning policies that limit most couples to a single child.

President Hu Jintao, speaking ahead of the release of the latest census figures in Beijing, said China would maintain its current family planning policy "to keep the birth rate low and the economy growing," official media reported.

China is facing a rapidly aging population and a sharp sex imbalance among newborns in favor of boys.

The 2010 census showed the population had increased to 1.37 billion, including 1.3397 billion on the mainland, according to figures released in Beijing on Thursday.

According to the State Statistics Bureau, the census showed an increase of 73.9 million people compared with the last national census in 2000.

Over the past decade, China's population has grown by an average of 0.57 percent annually.

Bureau director Ma Jiantang credited national family planning policies with the slowed growth rate.

"The rate indicated the momentum of fast growth in our population has been controlled effectively thanks to the family planning policy," Ma was quoted by the Xinhua news agency as saying.

Gender imbalance

China's controversial "one-child" policy began in 1980 and has been blamed by activists and ordinary people for triggering abuses of anyone who gives birth outside official targets.

It has also been linked by experts to the high male-to-female ratio among newborns, which stood at 118.06 for every 100 girl infants, higher than 116.86 in 2000.

"The gender ratio of 118.06 was still beyond the normal range, and we must attach great attention to this problem and take more effective measures to promote sex equality in terms of employment and salary, while caring more for girls," Ma said.

Social affairs commentator Zeng Ning said he is concerned by the gender imbalance in the population.

"The government should take this seriously ... and that could mean making some adjustments to the family planning policies," Zeng said.

"In about 10 or 20 years' time, there could be as many as 20 million men who can't find a wife," he said. "If that turns out to be true, then this is very worrying indeed."

Aging population

China's population is also aging, beginning to take on the patterns already seen in developed countries.

People aged 60 or above now account for 13.26 percent of the population, while juniors aged below 14 make up 16.6 percent.

Zeng said the demographic changes could lead to further social tension.

"China hasn't yet completed its modernization [program], and it is already an aging society," he said. "This will increase the financial burden on older people and put a huge amount of pressure on the government."

Guangxi-based author Xing Chu said both the sex imbalance and the aging population are the result of three decades of strict family planning quotas.

"After 30 years of the one-child policy, you have an aging population ... and an imbalance in the gender ratio," she said.

"People either abandon newborn girls or they drown them."

She said the government should change the rules so that couples whose first child is a girl could have another baby, while those whose first-born is a boy could not.

Urban growth

Meanwhile, the number of Chinese living in towns and cities rose to 665.57 million, nearly half the population, compared with a tally of 674.15 million rural residents in 2000.

Officials said the figures reflect mass migration of people from inland, poorer, areas to economically booming cities on the country's eastern seaboard.

The census figures come amid concerns for the well-being of blind Shandong-based legal activist Chen Guangcheng, one of China's most prominent rights campaigners and a noted critic of the one-child policy.

Chen has been held at his home in Yinan county along with his entire family since his release in September at the end of a four-year jail term.

Chen was jailed for "obstructing traffic" after he angered local family planning officials by encouraging local people to complain about forced abortions, forced sterilizations, and other abuses under the policy.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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