Family planning officials say the regulation has prevented 300 million births in 20 years, as the mainland marks World Population Day As the global community marked World Population Day yesterday, the central government said it intended to stick to its controversial one-child policy for 'a long time to come'. Zhang Shikun, a spokesman for the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said the one-child policy had helped to prevent more than 300 million births since it took effect more than 20 years ago. 'There's no need to toughen or loosen the current family planning policy,' she said. 'We expect to maintain it for a long time to come.' Ms Zhang said 16 million babies were born on the mainland last year, increasing the population of the world's most populous nation to 1.28 billion. The population was forecast to hit 1.6 billion by about 2050, she said. But while officials said there would be no relaxation of the policy, several provinces and municipalities have introduced regulations permitting certain couples to have more children. A family planning law was passed in September to refine the policy. The law encourages late marriages and late child-bearing. While it upholds fines for extra children, punishment for violators varies from region to region and is often at the discretion of local officials. In Shanghai, families with more than one child can be fined three times the city's average annual disposable income of 11,718 yuan (HK$11,015), while in Jiangsu province last year, a couple was fined as much as 420,000 yuan for having a second child. But under the new law, second children are acceptable for a 'special group of people'. Each municipality and province can define such special groups. Ms Zhang added that rural areas often allowed a second child, particularly if the first child was a girl, provided there was a five-year gap between children. She said on average mainland couples had 1.6 children. Most of the mainland's 55 ethnic minorities could also bear a second or even a third child, Ms Zhang said. In Shanghai, following 10 years of negative population growth, authorities were growing concerned about the economic hub's ageing population. In a move to boost the birth rate, they recently announced that couples who were permitted to have two children were no longer required to leave a five-year gap between births. The one-child policy has come in for some stern criticism from elements of the international community, who say that the right to bear children is fundamental. They also say that the policy leads to parents aborting female foetuses, as many couples want a male heir to carry on their family name. Sex-selective abortions have led to a skewed gender ratio on the mainland, with 117 males born for every 100 females. Yesterday's World Population Day carried the theme of 'Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights'. To mark the day, mainland authorities launched the country's first official website giving advice on sexual health to young people. The interactive site encourages youngsters to discuss their love lives openly and all matters related to sex, according to state media reports. Sex has traditionally been a taboo topic for teenagers on the mainland due to sensitivities about the issue, but officials are beginning to adopt a more liberal approach in the face of prevalent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.