March 14, 2008 / 7:55 AM / 11 years ago

Chinese state advisers urge end to "one-child" rule

BEIJING (Reuters) - China faces a grim mismatch between population and social needs unless it soon relaxes its one-child rule, government advisers and experts have warned, stoking fresh debate about the once untouchable policy.

A nurse takes care of newborn infants at a hospital in Huai'an, Jiangsu province, March 3, 2008. REUTERS/Patty Chen

The warning has come from members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and separately from prominent population experts in a newspaper on Friday.

Their calls come after officials sought to play down recent comments from a senior family-planning administration official who said the government was considering relaxing rules that restrict most urban couples to one child and farming couples to two.

With the world’s biggest population straining scarce land, water and energy, China has enforced rules limiting family size since the 1970s and argues that keeping the current restrictions is crucial to economic growth.

But during the annual session of the Consultative Conference, a literature scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and 28 other members signed a proposal urging “abolition of the one-child rule as quickly as possible,” according to a report on the Xinhua news agency Web site (www.xinhuanet.com) on Friday.

A deputy of the National People’s Congress, or parliament, which is still meeting, also called for “appropriately altering family planning policies,” the report said.

Scholar Ye Tingfang and her supporters in the Conference argued that the one-child rule is generating serious economic and social welfare problems and creating a nation of lonely, socially-maladapted children and elderly parents without caretakers.

“If we enforced the old coercive policies out of desperation, now desperation calls for ending that policy,” she earlier told the Southern Metropolitan Daily, a bold tabloid published in Guangzhou. She suggested urban couples be allowed two children.

The Consultative Conference is a powerless body, and the central government is unlikely to relax the “one-child” policy any time soon. Ye made a similar call last year.

But the open calls from the politicians, together with warnings from demographers — in the wake of the official’s comments — suggest that debate is growing.

In the Southern Metropolitan Daily on Friday, three Chinese experts assembled a case for quickly relaxing the restrictions, which threaten offenders with heavy fines, restricted government services and, especially in the past, forced abortions.

Officials contend that the policy has prevented 400 million births that would have put even greater strain on already stretched food stocks and other resources.

Keeping the controls for much longer will sap the population of young people in coming decades when the country faces growing numbers of aged, a shrinking workforce and a huge demand for old-age pensions, Zeng Yi of Peking University and two others said.

Zeng, a well-known expert on China’s population dynamics, said now would be the “best time” for relaxing family size controls — while the workforce is strong and the proportion of aged relatively low.

“If we wait five, 10, 15 years to adjust population control policies,” Zeng told the paper, “that would be compounding one disaster with another — then will be too late for regrets.”

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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