Relaxation of China's one-child policy: Is it too little, too late?

Relaxation of China's one-child policy: Is it too little, too late?

China is relaxing its controversial one-child policy. Why does the world's most populous country need more babies and will the policy relaxation work after 34 years of limiting its people's freedom in family planning? The Straits Times China Bureau's Kor Kian Beng and Ho Ai Li report.

Baby boom won't last, say experts

For 14 years, as Ms Sun Yuejiu's father battled a muscular disease that left him bedridden till he died in 2009, her mother was also battling health problems such as gallstones.

In those years as a caregiver, during which she had to shuttle between hospital and home and dig into her savings for their medical expenses, Ms Sun, 34, said one question dogged her persistently: "Why am I alone?"

A single child, Ms Sun, a lecturer at Changchun University of Technology in north-western Jilin province, is a product - she thinks of herself as a victim, though - of China's government policy that limits most couples to having only one child.

"I felt very lonely in caring for my parents. When I got married in 2000, I envied my husband for having a younger sister to share the responsibility of caring for their parents," Ms Sun told The Sunday Times in Mandarin. Her mother is still in ill health.

In one of the most significant reforms unveiled by the new Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has pledged to relax its strict family-planning policy and let more couples have more than one child.

Now, only three groups can do so: shuang du couples where husband and wife are from single-child families, those from the countryside whose first child is a girl or is handicapped, and those from ethnic minority groups.

The relaxed policy will allow couples of whom only one spouse is a single child, known as dan du, to have two children.

Across China, many dan du couples are weighing the pros and cons of having a second child even as the pledge made at the party's Third Plenum, a policy summit held last month, has reignited the debate over the one-child policy.

China's national legislature approved the policy change on Saturday and left its implementation to the local governments, some of which have pledged to start early next year.

Officials say the one-child policy has helped curb overpopulation and free up resources that fuelled the country's economic growth, but critics slam it for causing demographic woes such as a rapidly ageing population, gender imbalance and a shrinking workforce.

Also, some think the loosening up is too little, too late to boost birth rates, given how people have grown accustomed to having fewer children. Sceptics thus view it as a politically motivated move to improve the party's image rather than a genuine wish for more babies.

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