Henan is last to ease pain of one-child rule
Efforts to relax the rigid one-child policy have passed a milestone. Henan province, the most populous, has fallen into line with the rest of the mainland by allowing couples a second child if both parents are only children.
Already, calls are mounting for families to be allowed two children to counter the rapid ageing of the population - one consequence of the controversial decision more than 30 years ago to limit most couples to bearing a single child.
Xinhua reported yesterday that Henan had finally decided to allow couples born into one-child families to have a second baby, more than 20 years after Shanghai became the first mainland jurisdiction to do so.
Henan authorities said the one-child policy had prevented more than 33 million births since it was introduced.
According to official census data, 94 million people were living in Henan last year, ranking the province third in permanent population after Shandong's 95.6 million and Guangdong's 104 million. But Henan is the most populous if Henan migrant workers in other parts of the mainland are factored in.
The province plans to keep its resident population to within 107 million by 2020.
Professor Lu Jiehua , of Peking University's Population Research Institute, said the exemption granted to only-child couples was long overdue.
'Henan has a huge population base, but this exemption should have taken place five to six years ago,' Lu said.
He said ageing was such a critical issue that the province would need future populations to focus on boosting productivity in labour-intensive agriculture, which was the province's economic mainstay.
'Henan is suffering more from the effects of the ageing population compared to the rest of the country,' Lu said. 'It's because Henan has a huge number of old people and yet most of its young men and women are living and working in coastal provinces as migrant workers.'
He described the decision as only a 'routine adjustment'.
'Henan is only taking the last step to fill in the national gap in the one-child policy change. But the pressing issue now is to address further exemptions by allowing families to have two children if only one of the parents is an only child.'
The Peking professor forecast that some provinces would begin introducing this change in the next year or two.
Family planning officials from various regions, including Guangdong, have been sending out feelers to the central government about allowing further exemptions.
Wang Yuqing , deputy director of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference committee on population, resources and environment, said in March that national population authorities were considering whether to allow a couple to have two children if just one of the parents was an only child.
Wang said there would not be a sudden surge in population if the exemption came into effect in 2015.
In July, Guangdong applied to the central government to pilot a province-wide roll-out of the exemption. No approval has yet been given.
Guangdong family planning chief Zhang Feng said the additional exemption could cut down on the number of mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong, where no restrictions apply on having more than one child.
The drop in the proportion of the population aged 20 to 29 since 2000. It is forecast to fall another 20 per cent in the next two decades