China should lift all of its family-planning restrictions and step up pronatalist measures to boost the country’s precariously low birth rate, according to a number of representatives to the “ two sessions ” agenda-setting meetings that kick off on Friday. With thousands of China’s political elites converging on Beijing to attend the annual parliamentary gatherings, a number of representatives have revealed their proposals to the central government to address the nation’s worsening demographic crisis. Huang Xihuan, a delegate to the National People’s Congress and a city government official from Huizhou in Guangdong province, is among those advocating for China to completely lift its birth restrictions as soon as possible. China’s rapidly slowing population growth has become a growing headache for policymakers, with alarms being sounded for urgent solutions. Mothers in China gave birth to a historic low 10.62 million babies last year. The 11.5 per cent drop from 2020 contributed to an overall population increase of just 480,000 in the country of 1.4126 billion people. This has prompted warnings among demographic experts who say China’s population could peak this year or in the near future. Last year, China further eased its controversial family-planning restrictions to allow couples to have up to three children . “‘Three-child policy’ gives people the misleading impression that having four babies violates the policy,” Huang was quoted as saying in state media. Demographic experts contend that, while the policy stipulates couples can have up to three children, in reality those who have more than three will not be penalised. However, couples who have more are not currently able to claim additional benefits that come with childbearing, such as parental leaves, subsidies and other favourable policies. China’s population crisis could give women greater reproductive rights “Despite only a minority of couples desiring to have more than three children, it is more in line with the country’s current situation to encourage births without any restrictions on the number of children a couple can have,” Huang said. “China is at a critical transitional stage in which it is adjusting and perfecting its childbirth policies,” she added. “Both the number and proportion of women aged 20 to 39, in their peak childbearing years, are dropping. I suggest that the National Development and Reform Commission carry out topical research and ease the restrictions on childbirth as soon as possible.” Huang also proposed that women should enjoy maternity leave that is fully paid for by the government, rather than by employers. “If the cost of extended maternity leaves is borne by companies, they will be reluctant to hire female employees to save on the cost of human resources,” she said. “Therefore, the extended maternity leave should be at the expense of the national budget to eliminate gender discrimination in the job market.” Additionally, she called for offering subsidies to parents; cheaper day care and medical expenses; reduced interest rates for mortgages; and the promotion of unmarried women’s rights when it comes to having and raising children. Another delegate, Su Ronghuan, who is an environmental engineer from Foshan in Guangdong, also said he will submit a proposal suggesting tax deductions for families raising multiple children. Su suggested that tax-deduction items should include education and childcare costs for infants under the age of three, and that the individual income tax threshold should be raised in accordance with the number of children the family is raising, to ensure that families with more children receive more compensation. Some delegates also called for the extension of paternity leave, which would allow men to help shoulder more of the domestic responsibilities, and thereby mitigating some discrimination against women in the job market and workplaces. ‘Shocking’ fall in China’s national growth rate as population ageing intensifies Many provincial governments extended maternity leave after the country rolled out the three-child policy, to encourage women to give birth. The changes, however, sparked concerns that the burden of additional maternity leave might steer companies away from hiring women, further putting women at a disadvantage in the workforce. As a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference delegate, Feng Danlong, who is a businesswoman and a professor from Anhui province, said she will put forward suggestions including mandatory paternity leave, or shared parental leave that is divided between a couple, based on the situations of individual couples. And to address China’s rising infertility rate and the expensive cost of related treatment, the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang has also revealed its plans to propose insurance coverage for infertility treatments.