Measures help young couples expand families
 updatetime:2021-08-04 18:44:36   Views:0 Source:China Daily

Officials roll out incentives as part of efforts to lift dwindling fertility rates in the nation

When China allowed all couples to have a third child on May 31 in response to the nation's flagging fertility rates, that turned out to be just the start of its efforts.

About two months later, authorities followed up with a combination of rules incentivizing young couples to expand families.

The rules mainly target rising education costs, a shortage of day care services and gender discrimination in the workplace.

Such issues have come under growing public scrutiny in recent years for chipping away at the appeal for working couples to have babies.

The rules were laid out in a landmark resolution made by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, China's Cabinet, on June 26.

Officially published almost a month later, the document said the aim is to overhaul the nation's childbirth policies and achieve long-term balanced population growth.

It said authorities will establish a support system by 2025 that will help greatly ease the burdens associated with child-rearing and education.

The reform will also produce more benefits that help improve the "gender ratio, structure and quality" of the Chinese population.

To achieve those goals, rapid investment will be greenlighted during the period to develop maternity and day care services and related facilities.

Kindergartens will also be encouraged to admit children slightly younger than 3, which is currently the minimum age a child can enroll in such schools.

Further, parents will be given tax breaks, easier access to subsidized housing and breastfeeding leave. Inspections will also be made to ensure pregnancy and childbirth do not jeopardize women's careers.

The supporting measures are expected to play an even larger role in improving fertility rates than simply adjusting family planning policies in the long run, said Yu Xuejun, deputy head of the National Health Commission.

He told a news conference last month in Beijing that the new three-child policy is intended to boost fertility rates and slow the downward spiral of the nation's population growth.

But whether that goal can be reached in the long run is dependent on the implementation of support measures, which requires coordination from nearly all departments at all levels, he said.

"Participation and support from all parties are needed to create a favorable demographic environment to build China into a modern socialist country and rejuvenate the nation," Yu said, referring to China's modernization goals set for 2035 and 2049.

Yu said figures from the first six months suggest that the country's fertility rate and number of newborns will continue to fall.

He noted that dwindling fertility rates will keep placing pressure on authorities to balance population growth.

Ou Xiaoli, director-general of the National Development and Reform Commission's social development department, described the supporting rules as the central plank of efforts to build a "fertility-friendly society".

To achieve that, he said one priority is to make it easier and more affordable to care for young children.

That's because young couples have long relied on retired parents to care for infants and toddlers until they are old enough to attend kindergarten, usually at age 3.

But the latest census data showed that Chinese families had an average of 2.62 members last year, down from 3.1 in the previous census a decade earlier.

Experts said the number reflects young people's tendency to live apart from their parents and in-laws, and the trend is weakening the family's traditional function of child care.

Yang Wenzhuang, director-general of the National Health Commission's population and family department, said China has around 42 million children younger than 3.

Demand for day care is strong among one-third of the toddlers' families, but less than 6 percent have had access to such services, he said.

The central government released a guideline in 2019 to bolster the provision of day care services for such children and included it in its latest five-year plan, he added.

Workplaces have also been encouraged to run in-house day care facilities, Yang said, adding that the commission will step up oversight to ensure safety.

Lyu Yugang, director-general of the Ministry of Education's basic education department, said the coverage of government-subsidized kindergartens has grown rapidly lately, reaching 84.7 percent by the end of last year.

He said that was a "leap forward" given that parents had complained for years that kindergarten enrollment was difficult and private ones were expensive.

Since 2017, the ministry has asked schools to offer after-school services to remedy the mismatch between parents' work schedules and schooling, which ends at around 3 pm each weekday for primary schools.

Despite the policy shift, the resolution has pledged continuous efforts to protect the rights of families who only have one child.

Those include continuing the reward and assistance system, which provides subsidies both for families with one child and rural families with two daughters that were born before the introduction of the second-child policy in 2016.

Yu said: "This shows the Party and the State have high regard for the contributions made by one-child families."

Web Editor:MXJ