A senior health official in Beijing has urged China’s local leaders to find ways to boost the country’s birth rate.
Yang Wenzhuang said officials must take active steps to tackle the detrimental effects of China’s long-standing anti-population growth policy.
He also urged officials to “make bold innovations” in tackling the cost of childcare and education.
China reported in January that its population had fallen for the first time in 60 years.
In 2022, there was just 6.77 births per 1 000 people in China, the lowest birth rate on record and down from 7.52 births in the previous year.
The country’s strict one-child policy – which was implemented from 1980 to 2015 to respond to runaway population growth – has been blamed for the decline. Families that broke the rules were fined and, in some cases, even lost jobs.
The limit was increased nationally for married couples to two in 2016, and boosted further to three in 2021. But one province – Sichuan – has adopted even looser rules.
Yang – who heads the country’s Population Monitoring and Family Development department – said officials had to “firmly grasp the important window period of population development”.
Speaking to a state-backed health magazine, Yang said concerns about the cost of childcare were having a detrimental impact on population growth. He also identified challenges around money and career goals as causes for the decline.
“Local governments should be encouraged to actively explore and make bold innovations in reducing the cost of childbirth, childcare and education” to promote the long-term balanced development of the population, Yang said.
Some provinces have already begun implementing new measures to try to boost the birth rate, including giving money to sperm donors.
In Sichuan, health authorities said they would allow unmarried couples to raise a family and enjoy benefits reserved for married couples. Previously there was a ban on single women registering a birth.
Authorities in the region also announced that couples would be allowed to have as many children as they want – a major reversal of the one-child policy.
A shrinking population, falling birth rate and the prospect of a fast-aging population poses a long-term challenge to the world’s second largest economy, which only recently dropped ultra-strict COVID-19 curbs.
In 2022, the population dropped by 850 000 people to 1.41175 billion, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. It was the first decline since 1961, the last year of China’s Great Famine.
A surging Indian economy also threatens to overtake China and push it down to third place. (BBC)