A comprehensive pro-birth plan . . .
On Tuesday, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) unveiled a country-wide plan, the ‘Guidelines for Further Improving and Implementing Fertility Support Measures,’ jointly issued by 16 other agencies to encourage families to have more babies. The new plan aims to offer support systems for families focused on marriage, childbirth, child-rearing, and education. For example, it introduces targeted pro-birth measures, including promoting family-oriented traditional values, expanding access to childcare services, and encouraging employers to adopt flexible working arrangements. The new measures represent Beijing’s most comprehensive attempt to address the social and economic factors behind the low birth rate and declining population growth in China.
Discouraging abortions, expanding access to infertility treatment . . .
According to the guidelines, the Chinese government will “reduce abortions that are not medically necessary,” renewing concerns that the country may restrict abortion access. Yet it remains unclear what this will mean in practice. For example, in the 1980s and 1990s, China attempted to curb population growth via forced abortions, sterilization and contraception; however, abortions remain readily available, and China has one of the world’s highest abortion rates. The guidelines also nudge local governments to gradually include assisted reproductive technology in public health insurance coverage. This is the first time such a guideline has been outlined in a national policy document. Technologies like in vitro fertilization and egg freezing services are expensive without coverage and remain unavailable to unmarried women in China.
Preventing a population crisis . . .
China began moving away from its one-child policy to two- and three-child policies in 2016. Yet, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s birth rate fell for five consecutive years to a record low in 2021. With one of the lowest total fertility rates in the world, demographers suggest that China’s population may shrink for the first time this year since the great famine of 1959-1961. Despite new support measures, it remains unclear if couples want more children, especially during the current economic downturn and record-high youth unemployment rate.
- Human Rights Watch: How to fix China’s population crisis: Say sorry to women
- South China Morning Post: China tries to lift birth rate with new measures to make it easier to work and raise a family
- Sixth Tone: China’s new pro-birth plan: Give families what they need