Chinese city leads country in loosening one-child policy

Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, is leading the country in loosening the one-child policy, launching its own policy last week in an effort to solve its longtime population problem.

Under the decision made by the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee this month, couples are allowed to have a second baby if either parent is an only child.

A document published on the Zhoushan government's official website says, "Eligible couples with both spouses or one spouse an only child, and who already have one child in the family, can apply for giving birth to another one."

But the document adds that at least one of the two people must be a registered permanent resident of the city.

Local officials believe the new policy will rectify the 11-year growth decline in the city's population.

Xia Qianfeng, vice director of Zhoushan's health and family planning bureau, told Modern Gold Express that the low birthrate has led to a crucial structural problem.

Zhoushan, a coastal island city known for its marine industry, had registered 970,000 people by the end of 2012. But the city's population had begun to shrink with the new millennium, and now it is the only city with long-term negative population growth in the province.

The local government said it is facing a serious aging problem. In 2012, 20.32 per cent of the population was age 60 or older, compared with the provincial average of 17.87 per cent. The proportion in Zhoushan is expected to reach 40 per cent by 2030, about 8 per cent higher than the province as a whole, and 16 per cent higher than the national level.

In 2010, Zhoushan established a team of experts to study and research local population issues, and try to determine how to adjust city policies.

Under the new one-child policy, the local government said that Nov 19 was the first day for applicants to take advantage of the new policy.

During the transition period, which runs through March 31, eligible couples who submit applications will have a simplified approval process.

Currently, family planning and health authorities at local levels nationwide have already successfully started preparing for the loosening of the one-child policy as well as the potential rise in birthrates.

According to an online survey by news portal Sina.com that had more than 30,000 participants, 64.5 per cent of polled netizens said they want to have a second baby.

But enthusiasm doesn't always translate into action, said demographer Zhai Zhenwu, director of the School of Sociology and Population Studies at Renmin University of China.

The high cost of raising a baby in big cities and developed areas has made many couples reluctant to have a second baby, Zhai said.