Applications to have 2nd child fall short of forecast

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The number of couples that have applied to have a second child since China relaxed its family planning regulations last November is far lower than expected, the government said yesterday.

Of the 11 million couples now eligible to have a second child, just 6 percent, or about 700,000, have registered applications, the National Health and Family Planning Commission said.

“The number really falls short of our expectations,” Zhao Yanpei, a commission official, told a press conference.

The commission said earlier it expected the rule change — which allows couples to have a second child if either spouse is an only child — to result in 4 million new babies every year.

According to Zhao, several factors likely contributed to the lower-than-expected figures.

“Though the rule change was introduced in some areas at the start of the year, in others it didn’t take effect until June or July,” Zhao said.

“Also, it takes time for couples to make preparations for a new baby, so even if they decide they want one, they have to wait until the time is right,” he said.

Similarly, while families might like the idea of having a second child, the financial reality of it might prove prohibitive, especially for those living in major cities, he said.

“As a result, it might take several years before we see the true effects of the policy changes,” he said.

Song Shuli, a spokesman for the family planning commission, said that managing birth rates has been a key issue in China for generations.

“As the world’s most populous country, population control is a long-term challenge as it is closely linked with sustainable development,” he said.

“The commission will monitor the changes to the family planning rules and continue to strive for the best possible birth control policy,” he said.

In Shanghai, 8,000 couples applied to have a second child between March — when the city adopted the new regulations — and June. The rule change made an extra 400,000 couples eligible to extend their families.

Since its introduction in the late 1970s, the nations family planning regulations have resulted in an estimated 400 million fewer births.

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