China’s Sichuan drops strict limits on children, lets unmarried people register as parents

China’s Sichuan drops strict limits on children, lets unmarried people register as parents

Unmarried people will be able to have as many children as they want and enjoy benefits reserved for married couples in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, which has unveiled its latest effort to boost a declining birth rate.

Key points: China is trying to reverse a declining birthrate driven by the one-child policy imposed between 1980 and 2015. Its population shrank last year for the first time in 60 years. More than 21 percent of Sichunan’s population is over 60

The government stipulates that only married women are allowed to give birth, but with marriage and birth rates falling to record lows in recent years, provincial authorities revamped a 2019 rule to cover singles who want children.

From February 15, married couples and any individuals who want to have offspring will be allowed to register with the government in China’s fifth-most populous province, with no ceiling on the number of children they can register for.

The measure aims to “promote long-term and balanced population development,” Sichuan’s health commission said in a statement on its website.

Until now, the commission only allowed married couples who wanted up to two children to register with local authorities.

Authorities offer incentives to parents

China’s population shrank last year for the first time in six decades, a historic turn that is expected to usher in a period of decline.

This prospect is driving authorities to implement incentives and measures to boost the population.

The one-child policy was relaxed in 2015. (Reuters: Kim Kyung-Hoon, file)

A nationwide system for couples to register with local authorities ensures maternity insurance to cover medical bills, while allowing married women to keep their salary during maternity leave.

These benefits will now be extended to single women and men in Sichuan, which ranks seventh in the country in terms of those over 60, or more than 21 percent of its population, government figures show.

Before the change, people who had children out of wedlock could legally register their children but could not access the same benefits, said Dr Yi Fuxian, a demographer and the author of Big Country with an Empty Nest.

Much of China’s demographic decline stems from its one-child policy, imposed between 1980 and 2015, as well as rising education costs that have kept many Chinese from having more than one child, if any.

The expense of raising children in China’s cities is also often cited as a cause, reflecting attitudes in much of East Asia where birth rates have fallen sharply.

Dr Yi said the move would not fix China’s fertility problems.

“Currently, married couples find it difficult to raise a child, and unmarried partners and single mothers will be under even more pressure,” he told the ABC.

“But it’s a guarantee of reproductive rights.”

He said the ratio of out-of-wedlock births in East Asia – Taiwan, Japan and Singapore – was low compared to the West.

China’s overall birth rate last year was just 6.77 births per 1,000 people, down from a rate of 7.52 births in 2021, which is the lowest birth rate on record.

For the past few years, many local authorities have introduced policies such as tax deductions, longer maternity leave and housing subsidies to encourage people to have more babies.

Last October, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the government would introduce further supportive policies.


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