China's 'Three-Child' Population Drive Has Yet to be Implemented Locally

Officials say they will keep on fining couples for third pregnancies until the law formally changes.
2021-07-06
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China's 'Three-Child' Population Drive Has Yet to be Implemented Locally Children play with a basketball in an alley in Beijing, June 26, 2021.
AFP

Officials in China have yet to receive instructions for the implementation of the country's newly announced "three child" population policy.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) unveiled new plans at the end of May to boost flagging birth rates and reverse population aging, raising the official limit on the number of children per couple from two to three.

The move came five years after the CCP scrapped a historic policy limiting most couples to just one child, which gave rise to decades of human rights abuses, including forced late-term abortions and sterilizations, as well as widespread monitoring of women's fertility by officials.

However, a family-planning official in the southwestern province of Guizhou said the policy has yet to be implemented on the ground, and that couples who give birth to a third child are still regarded as having breached the current, two-child limit.

"The situation right now is that the [three-child] policy has not yet been implemented," an official who answered the phone at the Guizhou provincial government family planning bureau on Tuesday told RFA.

"The three-child policy hasn't yet been implemented and has not yet been introduced," the official said. "Third pregnancies are still being treated as excess births."

"They only just discussed the matter in the last Politburo standing committee meeting, and it may be released, but it hasn't been implemented yet," the official said, referring to a May 31 meeting that discussed "Optimizing Fertility Policies to Promote Long-Term and Balanced Population Development."

The draft of that document has since been passed to the National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee for consideration, according to an internal memo from the Guizhou provincial health commission seen by RFA.

Until then, would-be third-time parents will still need a birth permit before having a third child, the Guizhou official said. No refunds will be issued for pregnancies happening after the announcement and before implementation, they said.

Anxiety over implementation

The delay in implementing the new policy has sparked considerable anxiety, as reflected in online comments from residents of Sichuan province, who had asked their local government in Jintang county, only to be told that the three-child policy has yet to be implemented.

"The specific date for the three-child reproductive permit has not yet been finalized," the local authorities.

Authorities in Hunan province's Linxiang municipality gave a similar response, according to online comments.

"Relevant laws and regulations have yet to be revised, and birth permits can only be issued on the basis of the previous regulations," officials were quoted as saying.

Parents in Xuzhou city, Jiangsu province were also denied permission for a birth certificate for a third child.

State news agency Xinhua closed down its message function on its online news site at one point, after a deluge of comments on the issue.

Revenue from fines

Shandong-based rights activist Lu Xiumei told RFA that family planning bureaus are generally mostly interested in generating revenue through fines for excess births.

"If they give you the birth permit now, then what would be the point of their existence, those people in the family planning bureaus?" Lu said. "How are they going to make money then?"

"Without the money coming in, what is even the point of the family planning bureau?"

Zhang Jianping, a current affairs commentator in Yixing, Jiangsu, said the CCP shouldn't be telling people how many children to have.

"When a society develops to a certain level and the economy develops to a certain level, fertility decline is a natural thing," Zhang said. "Canada, Japan, and Taiwan are all encouraging fertility, but the results of human intervention are really not great."

According to the "China Statistical Yearbook," since 2007, the elderly dependency ratio in China has risen for 14 consecutive years. In Shandong, Chongqing, Liaoning, Jiangsu, and other places, the elderly dependency ratio has exceeded 20 percent.

The three-child policy was announced as CCP general secretary Xi Jinping chaired a meeting of the Politburo geared towards addressing the aging of the Chinese population.

Marriage, family values

The Politburo concluded that "education and guidance should be provided to promote marriage and family values among marriage-age young people," adding that tax and housing incentives would also be in the pipeline for couples wanting to have children.

Among the support measures planned by the government include improvements to prenatal and postnatal care, a universal childcare service, and reduced education costs for families.

China's fertility rate stood at around 1.3 children per woman in 2020, compared with the 2.1 children per woman needed for the population to replace itself.

But raising children in China is a costly business, with parents stretched to find money for even one child's education. While state-run schools don't charge tuition until the 10th year of compulsory education, they increasingly demand nominal payments of various kinds, as well as payments for food and extracurricular activities.

There are signs that the people who do most of the mental, physical, and emotional work of child-bearing and raising may not readily step up to solve the government's population problems, however.

In a poll posted to the official Xinhua news agency account on the Weibo social media platform after the announcement, 29,000 out of 31,000 respondents said they wouldn't consider having more children.

Reported by Qiao Long and Chingman for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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