Beijing: As China headed for once-in-a- decade leadership change, pressure mounted on the ruling Communist Party to change its controversial three-decade-old one-child policy, blamed for the looming demographic crisis.
China, world`s most populous country, should consider adjusting its family planning policy, as structural problems have overtaken excessive growth as the most significant population-related problem, an official think-tank has said in a daring proposal.
Population is heading for negative growth and an ultra-low fertility rate, as well as faces issues related to aging, gender imbalances, urbanization, an expanding shortage of migrant workers and an only-child generation, said a report by China Development Research Foundation.
The report said the government should gradually loosen the one-child policy over the next three years in regions where family planning has been strictly implemented. By 2020, there will be no need to continue birth planning, as people will make more rational decisions on birth issues, it said.
The one-child policy was introduced around 1980 by the Communist Party to rein in China`s surging population by encouraging late marriages and pregnancies, as well as limiting urban couples to one child and rural couples to two.
Officials claim that the policy had prevented about 400 million births, pegging the country`s population to about 1.3 billion.
The report advocating a change in one-child policy came ahead of November 8 Congress of the Communist Party to select new leaders to rule the country for the next ten years.
Officials say loosening of the one-child policy allowing people to have two kids could top the agenda of the new leaders. A number of provinces, including Shanghai already started losing the policy.
The report said as a result of the one-child policy, annual growth rate of the population has declined, slowing to 0.57 per cent in the first decade of the 21st century, down from 1.07 per cent in the previous ten years.
The report came after yet another official study which warned that the number of senior citizens is expected to skyrocket from the current 185 million to 487 million, or 35 per cent of the population, by 2053.
"The aging problem came late to China and the country is still struggling to create mature policies addressing the issue," Zhu Yong, vice director of the China National Committee On Aging, said last week at a meeting of the United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge International.
China had about 185 million people above the age of 60, or 13.7 per cent of the population, as of the end of last year. The figure is expected to surge to 221 million in 2015, including 51 million "empty nesters," or elderly people whose children no longer live with them.
The CDRF said China will have an ultra-low fertility rate after 2026 and that the government should start encouraging families to have more children.
The implementation of the policy has reduced the pressure created by a rapidly rising population, made contributions to economic growth and helped improve population quality, it said.
However, China has paid a huge political and social cost for the policy, as it has resulted in social conflict, high administrative costs and led indirectly to a long-term gender imbalance at birth, the report said.
It also pointed out the aging population and the fact that China`s "demographic dividend" has already ended will pose a severe challenge for the country`s future development.
"This means China cannot rely on an unlimited labour supply for its future economic development, but must instead boost its total factor productivity (TFP)," said Cai Fang, director of the Institute of Population and Labour Economics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.