China will maintain its family planning policy to keep a low birth rate over the next five years, but more efforts will be made to improve population quality and structure, a senior Chinese population official told the Beijing-based Study Times.
"The current family planning policy must be kept basically stable, a fundamental measure to cope with the fourth baby boom (in the next five years)," said Zhang Weiqing, director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.
Since the initiation of the family planning policy in the early 1970s, China has successfully brought its rapid growing population under control during 1970-1995 and achieved a low birth level during 1995-2005, preventing over 400 million births.
But many challenges remain, said Zhang, as China will see its total population, working-age population and aging population all reach their peaks in the middle of this century.
The rising male-to-female ratio and the world's largest migrating population have posed serious questions to the government's management capacity and social stability.
"The major reason for China's rising sex ratio is the entrenched concept of 'boys are better than girls'. The direct reason is the abuse of B-ultrasound technology. Does the imbalance have something to do with family planning? Yes, but there is no direct connection," said Zhang.
The Republic of Korea, India and China's Taiwan all have the problem of a rising sex ratio, but they do not have strict birth control policies. Chinese cities also practice a stricter family planning policy than rural areas, but do not see the sex ratio rising, he said.
"Therefore, adjusting the family planning policy is not a fundamental solution to dealing with a rising sex ratio," he said.
Experts warned that China has seen 117 boys born for every 100 girls, far beyond the normal ratio of 100 females to 104-107 males.
"To keep the current low birth rate stable, the countryside is the focus that requires hard efforts," said Zhang, urging the further improvement of policies favorable to families practicing family planning as part of the campaign for building a new socialist countryside.
China's current family planning policy will remain fundamentally the same although there will be minor changes according to future needs.
Zhang said the reform of the family planning policy should follow the principle of "remaining stable overall and carrying out minor changes in line with local conditions" to prevent population growth from bouncing back by a large margin.
The current 1.8 gross fertility rate is a proper level for China's population growth, he said, stressing that the population policy, if incorrect, would have an irreversible impact on socioeconomic development.
China's family planning policy is not a 'one-child' policy, he said, adding that an urban couple, if both husband and wife are the only child of their families, can give birth to a second child and farmers in many provinces are allowed to have one more if their first child is a girl.
Rural families in Yunnan, Qinghai, and Hainan provinces, and the Ningxia and Xinjiang autonomous regions can have two children. And there is no limitation whatsoever to rural families in Tibet, he said.
Instead, China gives more attention to improving its population quality, first by setting up a national birth defect intervention and monitoring network to ensure that every family can give birth to healthy kids.
The government should lead society in creating a social atmosphere of "women are equal to men", crack down on illegal pre-natal gender selection, abortion based on sex preference and deserting baby girls, he said.
Meanwhile, the government should gradually reform its household registration system to enable the migrant population to have access to urban services, set up a social security net for migrant rural workers.
(Xinhua News Agency April 23, 2006)