Why has China's Sichuan province abolished the ban on unmarried people having children?

Sichuan’s health commission announced on Monday that prohibitions on unmarried individuals having children would be lifted. AFP

Couples in this Chinese province can now have children without marriage and enjoy perks formerly reserved for married couples.

Sichuan’s health commission announced on Monday that prohibitions on unmarried individuals having children would be lifted, as part of a nationwide push to improve the country’s birth rate, according to Guardian.

Until now, the commission had only allowed married couples with up to two children to register with local governments.

Let’s take a closer look at why China is ending the ban on unmarried people having children.

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China ends ban on unmarried people having children

Issuing a government notification, Sichuan authorities announced that the measures “shift the focus of childbearing registration to childbearing desire and childbearing results.”

The report says the regulations will be in effect for five years.

Notably, unmarried women are not explicitly prohibited from having children under national reproduction policies, but proof of marriage is frequently required for parents to obtain free services such as prenatal healthcare, a mother’s wage during maternity leave, and job protection.

As per the report, Chinese people who attempt to register a birth outside of marriage frequently face steep fines in order to obtain a hukou, China’s vital household registration that allows the child access to education and social services.

The government data suggests Sichuan ranks eighth in terms of the share of the population over 60, or more than 21 per cent.

As a result, the Chinese province like many others has attempted various incentives to raise birth rates. It introduced monthly allowances in July 2021 to parents with a second or third child until the kids reach the age of three.

Also read: Why Japan is staring at a ‘now or never’ situation on its shrinking population

Declining population in six decades

According to BBC, China’s population in 2022 plummeted for the first time in six decades, signalling a historic shift that is expected to kick-start a new phase of depopulation.

In 2016, China scrapped its harsh one-child policy, which involved financial penalties and coerced abortions.

However, the improvements implemented in 2016 did not stem the drop in the birth rate. In China, deaths exceeded births for the first time last year, according to Guardian.

As a result, the Xi Jinping-led administration has been enacting a slew of policies and legislation to encourage more people to have children. According to Yahoo News, to control the decline, the government has also granted tax cuts and improved maternal healthcare.

The government’s main concerns revolve around the economic impact of an ageing population, since the proportion of working-age people shrinks in comparison to those supported by the state, as per Wion.

Gender imbalance

Chinese culture has a significant gender imbalance as it favours boys over girls. Due to the country’s one-child policy that was introduced in the late 1970s, more boys were born than girls.

This was because in the Asian country, “men were more likely to secure an iron rice bowl (a job for life),” according to DW.com.

China has slid 33 places to the bottom third of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, placing 102 out of more than 100 nations in 2022, down from 69 in 2012.

China’s global gender gap index was at the level of 0.68 indexes in 2022, unchanged from the previous year.

Also read: In China, nearly 80% of population is now infected with Covid-19, say scientists

Gen Z women rejecting marriage, kids

According to South China Morning Post, young Chinese women, particularly those born between 1995 and 2010, are increasingly demanding diversity and individuality in their lives.

Many young people feel comfort in knowing that their nonconformist viewpoint is shared by others, as indicated by popular social media posts and advertising trends.

The desire for Chinese women to have children is the lowest in the world, a survey published in February by think-tank YuWa Population Research showed, reported Reuters.

As per the report, young people are increasingly rejecting marriage and childbirth, citing high living costs, low wages, restricted social mobility, greater job obligations, and social expectations on women, notoriously long working hours as issues that still need to be addressed.

A key root cause of low birth rates, according to Peter McDonald, professor of demography at the University of Melbourne, is gender inequality, where China is ranked 102nd out of 146 countries by the World Economic Forum.

With inputs from agencies

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