China's second-child policy increases births by 7.9%

Beijing, Jan 23 (IANS) The second-child policy implemented in China increased the number of births to 17.86 million in 2016, an increase of 7.9 per cent and the highest annual number since since 2000, according to health authorities.

The number of newborns has increased by 1.31 million compared with 2015, the National Health and Family Planning Commission revealed on Sunday.

The portion of the births to couples who already had at least one child rose quickly to at least 45 per cent last year, Yang Wenzhuang, a division director of the commission, said. 

The proportion was around 30 per cent before 2013, the China Daily reported.

"It demonstrates that the universal second-child policy (implemented early last year) came in time and worked effectively," Yang said.

"Some regions, mostly large cities in eastern areas, began recording second children as comprising more than half of local newborns," he added.

Yang expected that by 2020, the number of new births each year would stand between 17 to 20 million in China.

The top decision makers intensified efforts in late 2013 to adjust birth policies in place for three decades that limited most couples to just one child, aiming at addressing major demographic challenges such as an aging population and a looming labour shortage.

Starting in early 2014, couples in which one was an only child could have a second child. The universal second-child policy was implemented at the start of 2016.

By 2050, the policy is expected to bring about an extra 30 million working age people and reduce the nation's aging rate by 2 per cent, commission projections showed.

A 2015 survey by the commission found nearly 75 per cent of respondents were reluctant to have a second baby, largely due to economic burdens, the China Daily said.

Other major concerns were age, parents' career development, and a lack of caregivers, it showed. 

In the mid-1950s, the average number of annual births in China was around 18 million, almost the same as in 2016. But the fertility rate (the average number of children a woman will have during her life) has dropped from more than six then to less than two.

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