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Two-child policy proposal needs to be reconsidered in China

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A senior member of the political advisory body of North China's Shanxi Province has proposed that China should further relax its family planning rules by implementing a comprehensive two-child policy. 

Mei Zhiqiang, deputy director of the Family Planning Commission of the province, said "the policy has to ensure every couple will have two children."

This directive-style suggestion, once released on social media, soon caused quite a stir. Some lauded Mei's suggestion, calling it an assertive way to rectify the maladjusted demographic structure. Others sniffed at it, criticizing it as another compulsory policy.

Family planning has turned increasingly controversial in Chinese society in recent years. Demographers, policymakers and ordinary people are engaged in a heated discussion over the impacts of the policy in China. 

There is no doubt that preventing over 400 million births in about 35 years is a great contribution to the reduction of social pressure. However, the side effects are affecting Chinese society, as its aged population increases out of proportion to the young, and the gender ratio becomes severely unbalanced. 

These drawbacks have set alarm bells ringing, and authorities are seeking a readjustment. About one year ago, Shanghai devised a pilot project to implement a limited "two-child policy," which allows a local couple, if either is an only child, to have a second child. So far, the real effect of the new policy remains to be seen. Although 90 percent of women in their child-bearing years qualify, only 5 percent have applied to local authorities to have another baby.

Considering the contentions both in academic and societal dimensions, whether the family planning policy needs to be calibrated, re-oriented or even abolished is a technical issue. A policy change like this requires factual scientific research and substantial evidence drawn from pilot projects.

The authorities need to show both prudence and initiative in the process and pay as much heed as possible to the exercise of administrative power. During the implementation of the current family planning policy, a few brutal cases regarding some local governments using compulsory means, such as forced abortion and forced sterilization, have been exposed.

China is at a critical moment as the dividends of a large population are diminishing and the burden of the aging population is increasing. The country needs to learn lessons from its first demographic re-arrangement in 1979. 

Mei's intention to remodel China's demographic framework may be earnest, but calling for a direct administrative intervention to enforce a new policy over this delicate issue needs to be reconsidered. It is better to carry forward the new policy through encouragement and incentives, which will be more easily accepted by the people. 

2016-06-24

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