Chinese Explore Ways to Promote Two-child Policy
Gu Wentong April 24, 2017Comments(0) Post Your Comment E-mail Print Save

Why are so many Chinese families grappling with the decision to have a second child? How should a husband and wife build a harmonious family with two kids? How can China improve its policies and public services to promote the two-child policy? Such issues have been discussed vigorously since January 1, 2016, when China officially allowed all Chinese couples to have two children. That policy shift ended the country's decades-old, one-child policy. The two-child policy is a key strategy in China's population development, and it is intended to increase labor supply and help the country cope with the pressure that comes with being an aging society.

China introduced its family planning policy — essentially the one-child policy — during the 1970s. The move was intended to curb the population explosion the country was experiencing. The policy officially restricted married, urban couples from having more than one child, but allowed exemptions under certain situations. For example, families whose first child was disabled, minority families and rural couples whose first child was a daughter were permitted to have more than one child. 

There had been growing calls to adjust the policy in recent years, to increase labor supply and help the country to cope with the pressure of an aging society. 

China in 2002 allowed couples who were both only children to have two children. Restrictions were loosened again at the end of 2013, when the Chinese Government allowed couples to have a second baby if at least one partner was an only child.

To Chinese, January 1, 2016, was more than the first day of the New Year; in fact, it marked the shift in the government's decades-long family planning policy of encouraging Chinese to have only one child. The two-child policy gives Chinese the opportunity to choose to have two children, and it paves the way for the sustainable development of China's population.

"China will have an estimated 17.5 million newborns in 2016. That is almost identical to the anticipated number (of newborns) during the first year after China began adopting the two-child policy," said Wang Peian, Vice-Minister of China's National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC). Wang made the remarks during a work conference in Beijing in November 2016.

One? Or Two?

The change in the family planning policy is expected to help relieve problems, such as the exploding aging population, and also balance the demographic structure. However, many Chinese families are grappling with the pros and cons of having a second child. 

A team, composed of officials of the Wuhan Women's Federation, Wuhan Education Bureau, Wuhan Working Committee on Children and Women, Wuhan Municipal Commission of Health and Family Planning and several other organizations, conducted an inspection tour of Bairuijing (a community in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province) and Erdaojie (a street in Wuchang, a district in Wuhan) Primary School on September 28, 2016. The officials conducted a survey among women, to learn how many families had decided to have a second child. 

Many women respondents said their families were hesitant to have a second child because of the high costs of rearing and educating children.

"We live strained lives," says Liu Ying, a resident of Bairuijing. "In addition to paying high costs for housing, medical care and education, we have to shoulder the heavy responsibility of looking after our aged parents and our young child. We cannot afford the additional expense, or the time and energy, it will take to raise and educate a second child."

Most of the women, who were of childbearing age, said they and their husbands would plan to have a second child only if the women's parents and/or parents-in-law would agree to help take care of the baby.

Suggestions

The ACWF's officials during the past year have held several meetings, during which they have received opinions — from people of different ages and from all segments of society — on how to promote China's two-child policy.

Based on the public's suggestions, ACWF's officials have made proposals to the NPC (National People's Congress) Standing Committee for helping women balance work and life while the Chinese Government implements the two-child policy. The officials suggested NHFPC, China's ministries of Finance and Education, and other organizations should allocate more money to improve the facilities and services of public nurseries and kindergartens, especially those for children aged three and under.

The officials have also suggested the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security should promulgate measures to help women strike a balance between work and family. For example, the ministry should improve the maternity insurance system, to encourage more women to give birth to a second child. The ministry should also adopt a policy that would allow both men and women to receive paid parental leave, so more men would help their wives take care of their babies.

To provide better social security services to women, and to help ease some women's concerns that giving birth to a second child might adversely affect their employment and/or career development, the officials suggested the Chinese Government should provide a subsidy to employers, to help them cover the cost of paying for their employees' maternity insurance. In addition, the government should strengthen supervision over the administration of maternity insurance, to ensure designated hospitals implement the system efficiently. 

The officials stressed that women's federations, at all levels across the country, should urge job-market-supervisory departments to ban unreasonable acts (such as refusing to hire women and raising the standards for employing women), so women can compete fairly with men in the job market. The federations should also organize activities to improve people's awareness of the importance of eliminating gender discrimination in the job market.

Shen Yueyue, Vice-Chairperson of the NPC Standing Committee and President of ACWF, stresses that media outlets should raise public awareness about the importance of implementing the two-child policy, and that Chinese should have a correct understanding of the importance of childbirth. She also urges cadres with women's organizations and women's federations, at all levels across the country, to conduct more research into how leaders and/or owners of government organizations, enterprises and institutions should adopt effective measures to protect women's legal rights and interests, while they promote China's two-child policy. 

Improving Medical Services

Statistics released in January 2016 by NHFPC indicate 90 million Chinese couples met the requirements for having a second child. Of those couples, 60 percent were aged 35 or better, and 50 percent were aged 40 or better. Given the marked increase in the number of newborns and pregnant and lying-in women, who are aged 35 or more, there is a need for hospitals and healthcare centers to improve their medical services for women and children.

"Beijing had 172,000 newborns in 2015, and the number rose to about 300,000 in 2016. That means gynecologists, midwives and nurses (in hospitals' departments of gynecology and obstetrics) almost doubled their workloads," Zhang Xiaohong, Director of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics of Peking University People's Hospital, was quoted as saying. 

"Due to the tremendous pressures inherent in their work, and the little pay they receive for their work, many gynecologists and midwives quit their jobs," says Zhou Youzhen, Director of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics of Beijing Shijitan Hospital. "Also, as many doctors and nurses have given birth to a second child, many hospitals in Beijing are short of gynecologists, midwives and nurses (in the hospitals' departments of gynecology and obstetrics) … many of the hospitals have a hard time recruiting employees for the departments. Also, the hospitals have to put much effort into cultivating the employees."

Zhou stresses hospitals should improve their medical services for pregnant and lying-in women, especially those who are aged 35 or better. She also suggests hospitals should provide training to midwives, to help them improve their medical skills.

Promoting Breastfeeding

"Many women have to give up breastfeeding their babies after their maternity leave ends, as they cannot return home to breastfeed … while they are at work, and there are no breastfeeding rooms in their workplaces," says Deng Dongrui, a gynecologist with Tongji Hospital in Wuhan.

To promote breastfeeding in China, the China Office of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) in May 2013 implemented the "10 Square Meters of Love" campaign in Beijing. The purpose of the campaign was to advocate the establishment of breastfeeding rooms — equipped with comfortable chairs, electrical sockets, refrigerators, toys and wash basins — in public buildings and workplaces throughout the country.

During the publicity activity for 2016 World Breastfeeding Week (organized annually from August 1-7 in more than 120 countries by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, the World Health Organization and UNICEF), Wang Guoqiang, Deputy Director of NHFPC, told media the commission would do more to encourage enterprises, institutions and public-service organizations to establish breastfeeding rooms for their employees and/or customers, to showcase Chinese society's respect to and care for women, and to promote the construction of a harmonious society

Harmonious Families

"Tiantian is a present from God," says Zhou Fen, 29, an accountant with a privately run enterprise in Beijing. Zhou got pregnant, for the second time, by accident. She resigned her job, to stay at home and raise her two children, after she gave birth to Tiantian on November 20, 2016.

Yangyang, Zhou and Yuan Li's eldest daughter, loves her younger sister dearly. The three-year-old girl often helps her mother take care of Tiantian.

Sometimes, when Zhou sees her two kids playing together intimately, she feels that all of her painstaking efforts to raise her two children are worthwhile. 

"Having a second child will ensure kids do not grow up lonely. That feeling pervaded the childhoods of most people my age, as we grew up without siblings," says Zhou.

"As an increasing number of families have or plan to have two children, husbands and wives should make greater efforts to build harmonious families," says Gao Wenbin, Director of the Center for Mental Health Research, under the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Gao stresses that men should help their wives raise and educate their children, to lighten the women's burdens.

Tan Rihui, an associate researcher with the Institute of Urban Studies, under the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, suggests parents should teach their child to be tolerant before they give birth to a second child. 

"Sometimes, the eldest child, who is used to enjoying his or her parents' love exclusively, will reject his or her younger brother or sister," says Tan. "Therefore, parents should help improve their eldest child's sense of responsibility, so he or she will care for his or her younger brother or sister. That will promote the physical and mental development of both their … children."

Effects 

Wang Peian said, in the short run, the two-child policy will boost demand for babies' products, children's education and women and children's healthcare services. In the long run, given the implementation of the policy, China's working age (between 15 and 59) population will increase by about 30 million by 2050, he added.

Several demographers have predicted China will probably witness a peak in newborns (the number will exceed 5.65 million) in 2017. That will increase labor supply, and it will help the country cope with the pressure of an aging society. Several demographers have said it might take several years to see the social effects of the two-child policy, as the policy influences the distribution of public resources and many other factors.

(Executive Editor: TONG XIN, Women of China English Monthly January 2017 Issue)

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