The growing birth rate and prevalence of birth defects within the rural population could threaten the nation's long-term goals and ideas about social harmony, a top family planning official said.
"We will continue to emphasize our work in rural areas," Zhang Weiqing, minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said on Monday.
He said the low birth rate, a legacy of the country's 30-year-old family planning policy, is poised for a rebound in rural areas.
Besides natural causes, factors such as an increase in the number of women of childbearing age, farmers' traditional preference for big families and the flouting of the one-child policy by celebrities, have contributed to the expect increase in the birth rate.
"If the trend is not stopped, it could negatively affect the government goals for the population and economy," Zhang said.
The authorities would like to keep the population below 1.45 billion until 2020 and to quadruple per-capita GDP from the 2000 figure.
In many parts of the country, the one-child policy has become a de facto two-children policy.
In Nanping city, Fujian Province, for example, parents are allowed to have another child four years after giving birth to a girl. In some villages, the policy has been modified to allow a second child even if the first-born baby is a boy.
Meanwhile, birth defects and the gender imbalance could undermine social harmony, Zhang said.
According to a survey by the National Maternal and Child Health Surveillance Office, the rate of defects among rural infants rose from 101.7 per 10,000 births in 1996 to 140.8 last year.
A survey by the national statistics bureau in 2005 indicated that the ratio of men to women in rural areas was 122.85:100. The ratio for the whole country was 119.58:100.
Zhang said the commission would also address neglect of the elderly and children in rural areas in the wake of rapid urbanization and widespread immigration by farmers to cities.
People aged 65 or older accounted for 9.6 percent of the total rural population in 2005, compared with 8.5 percent in urban areas, and there are more than 20 million children under the age of 14 whose parents have left home to work in cities.
(China Daily November 14, 2007)