Beijing: Around 900,000 babies are born with birth defects in China every year, the health ministry said Wednesday.
This constitutes about 5.6 percent of the total number of newborns, Xinhua reported.
The ministry report for 2012 on prevention and treatment of defects in newborn babies said birth defects -- at 19.1 percent -- have become the second-biggest cause of infant deaths in China.
Birth defects are a serious problem in China`s rural areas. Neural tube defects, congenital heart disease, cleft lip and hydrocephalus are among the most common.
Among babies born with defects, about 30 percent die within five years after birth, while 40 percent suffer lifelong deformities, the report said.
About 250,000 newborns have visible defects.
Experts believe the increase in birth defects may be linked to the withdrawal of compulsory premarital health checks in 2003, as well as an increase in the number of women who have their first child at an older age.
Consumption of prohibited medicine, increased exposure to radioactivity and drinking has also contributed to the increase, experts said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 7.9 million children, or about six percent of total births worldwide, are born with birth defects each year, due to genetic or environmental causes.