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Relaxed rule may not be enough to raise more kids

Updated: 2013-12-06 10:02
By Bai Ping ( China Daily Africa)

Parents appear reluctant to embrace change to one-child policy because of various constraints

Before a daily morning meeting last week, young mothers in my office held a straw poll on whether they would have a second child and, if they did, when it would be. Fewer than half said they would like to have a second child, but they didn't have any specific plans. The rest, who became eligible to have a second child after the recent change in the country's family planning policy, said "No, thanks", because they were already exhausted after raising their only child and were amazed by colleagues who wanted to have a second.

The colleagues agreed to check on the results a couple of years later. We should know what to expect: Judging by research, even fewer babies will be born, because those who said "yes" will be prone to changing their minds, while those who said "no" will most likely stick to their decision.

Before the country's leaders announced the decision to ease the country's family planning policy - allowing Chinese couples with one spouse being an only child to have two children - Chinese demographers had already conducted numerous studies on people's willingness to have more children, with or without government control.

Relaxed rule may not be enough to raise more kids

One of the studies covered tens of thousands of women of childbearing age in Jiangsu province and was conducted by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The study, which concluded in 2010, found that of the women eligible to have two children because they and their spouces were single children or they lived in rural areas and their first-born was a girl, only 30 percent had chosen to do so. The rest blamed financial, time and childcare constraints for not having a second child or simply chose to stop at one.

When researchers revisited the subjects at the end of their three-year study, they were startled by the fact that most of those who had initially wanted to have a second child had given up the idea.

The reluctance to have more children is even more apparent in major Chinese cities that are not immune to an inverse correlation between economic progress and fertility, a paradox that plagues developed Asian societies.

While many urban parents dream that their lonely only child could have a sister or a brother, they also fear that having a second child may add to their anxiety and stress, and hurt their quality of life. Besides juggling between work and family, they need to worry about high living costs, overcrowded hospitals, frequent food scandals, air pollution and an education rat race that starts from kindergarten.

It appears the public has been keenly following the easing of the family planning policy. However, with all the research and obstacles associated with childbearing in mind, people may avoid reading too much into the euphoria, because many eager parents may eventually have a change of heart when they contemplate the financial, time and physical costs of rearing a child.

For decision-makers who hope to reverse the low fertility rate and maintain a young labor force, the real battle has just begun, because they may soon find a gradual relaxation in family planning regulations is not enough to encourage people to have more children.

I've heard colleagues talking about what would motivate them to have a second child. Their parenting wish lists vary but all of them include conditions such as a pro-child environment with easier access to good schools, hospitals and childcare, and more generous support from employers and the government.

Until these basic needs are met, having a second child will continue to be an elusive dream for many loving parents.

The author is editor-at-large of China Daily. Contact the writer at dr.baiping@chinadaily.com.cn.

Relaxed rule may not be enough to raise more kids

(China Daily Africa Weekly 12/06/2013 page13)

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