China allows couples third child to tackle falling birth rate amid demographic crisis

A child wearing a face mask runs along a path at a public park in Beijing. Credit: AP

China is to allow couples to legally have a third child as it seeks to prevent its demographic crisis from worsening.

At its session on Friday, the ceremonial legislature amended the Population and Family Planning Law, cancelling the imposition of fines for breaking the earlier child restrictions.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress called for additional parental leave and childcare resources, with an amendment proposed over new measures in schooling, housing, employment and finance “to ease the burden on families”.

ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia explores why China has shifted its policy

The changes also seek to address longstanding discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace that puts off many from having additional children.

The rules were eased for the first time in 2015 to allow two children amid fears that China will grow old before it becomes wealthy.

The one-child policy was introduced nationally in 1979, to slow the population growth rate.

The policy was enforced with threats of fines or loss of jobs, leading to abuses including forced abortions. A preference for sons led parents to kill baby girls, leading to a massive imbalance in the sex ratio.

China touted it as as a success in preventing 400 million additional births in the world’s most populous country.

However, concerns began to be raised about rising social costs and falling worker numbers, as birth rates dropped, adding to strains in an aging society.

Statistics now show 12 million babies were born in China last year, which would be down 18% from 2019’s 14.6 million.

A maternity matron, tends to four-week-old Bei Bei at a home in Beijing, China. Credit: AP

Those aged 60 and over, who number 264 million, accounted for 18.7% of the country’s total population in 2020, 5.44 percentage points higher than in 2010.

At the same time, the working-age population fell to 63.3% of the total from 70.1% a decade ago.

The shift to the two-child rule led to a temporary bump in the numbers of births but its effects soon wore off and total births continued to fall because many women continued to decide against starting families.