China's population policies, which include draconian quotas limiting most families to a single child, look set to remain in place at least for the next five years, officials said on Monday.
The country is facing a rapidly aging population and a sharp sex imbalance among newborns in favor of boys, according to the director of Beijing's National Population and Family Planning Commission.
The 'one-child' policy of the past 30 years has frequently led to abuse of power by officials in charge of implementing it, activists say.
The announcement comes amid growing calls for the release from effective house arrest 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.
Allegations of forced late-term abortions, forced sterilization, beatings, official harassment, and even forced eviction are heard regularly across China in connection with officials keen to make strict family planning quotas and evade penalties.
In November, a court in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui rejected a lawsuit filed against local family planning officials by a young mother who said she was kidnapped and forcibly sterilized by family planning officials.
Li Hongmei, 23, of Anhui's Changfeng county, told RFA at the time that she was illegally detained and forced to sign a consent form for the sterilization soon after she had given birth to her daughter.
Li's story is not uncommon among rural women. But Beijing's family planning chief Li Bin said on Monday that there would be few changes to the existing system.
"China will keep its family planning policy largely the same for the next five years," Li Bin was quoted as saying in official media.
Li Bin said Beijing still wants to keeping the birth rate down, in an attempt to rein in massive population growth.
"[This] is still the priority, given the country's large population and relatively scarce natural resources," she said in an interview with Xinhua news agency.
However, she promised further government subsidies for families who stick to official birth targets.
Migrants 'left out'
Li Bin said China's 200-million strong population of migrant workers are all now approaching the age to become parents.
She called on local officials to provide migrant groups with access to free contraceptive services and reproductive health checks.
Migrant workers who give birth in China's cities are often denied access to the health care, free education, and other social services that would have been available to them in their rural hometowns.
Activists and politicians have called for the abolition of China's household registration system, which currently links such services to a single location in the country and discriminates heavily in favor of urban residents.
Xinhua said China's urban population will likely overtake its rural population in the next five years following massive rural-to-urban migration.
Written by Luisetta Mudie.