The China Development Research Foundation says a review of the decades old policy is needed if China is to correct the demographic problems that have resulted from its strict birth limits.
Correspondent: Kanaha Sabapathy
Speakers: Therese Hesketh, Professor of Global Health, University College London; Arie Hoekman, Representative, UN Population Fund, China
SABAPATHY: China's one child policy was introduced in 1980 as a temporary measure to curb the surging population, alleviate poverty and help promote the nation's economic development. The success of that policy is reflected in the 0.57 percent annual population growth rate in the first decade of the 21st century, down from 1.07 percent in the previous ten years. But that success in reducing population numbers is having an impact on the dynamics of China's demography says Arie Hoekman the representative for the UN Population Fund in China.
HOEKMAN: It's not about growth anymore. Its more about changing population structures. Changing structures as well when it comes to the population distribution in the country itself, with such a high rate of migration and such high level of urbanisation taking place.
SABAPATHY: Although called the one child policy there are several exceptions to the rule. Most urban couples are allowed one child, unless the couple themselves are both single child, which allows them the right to have a second. Rural families are allowed two children so long as their firstborn is a girl and minorities are given a similar right. Now the China Development Research Foundation or CDRF is urging the government to implement a nationwide two child policy by 2015.
Therese Hesketh professor of Global Health at University College London says such a policy will not only make everybody equal but it would also help address other imbalances.
HESKETH: The policy has also created all sorts of demographic imbalances in terms of the sex ratio, excess males and in terms of too many elderly people. The proportion of elderly people has now become so great it has become a great burden on the government.
SABAPATHY: China's aging population, many without pensions, may pose a problem, but Arie Hoekman says longevity and healthier lifestyles means an aging China need not have a negative impact on the economy.
HOEKMAN: Might actually be proven to become a positive impact, if you were to look at it as a longevity dividend. But its more in terms of the underlying reproductive capacity of the society that in the end China will have to raise the question of how to deal with population policies and it may eventually have to come to the conclusion as many other countries have done in the past that it needs to devise policies that are actually conciliatory policies, policies that are meant to promote to encourage people to have the number of children that they would like to have in order to continue their reproductive roles in society. Its also to seek a balance between productive and reproductive roles.
SABAPATHY: In its report the CDRF says China's population is heading for negative growth and an ultra low fertility rate by 2026 ... and is urging the government to encourage families to have more children. But Prof. Hesketh says therein lies the problem because even if given the encouragement many couples tend to stick to one child.
HESKETH: I think one of the fears of the government is that even if they were to lift the policy alot of Chinese couples will still choose to have only one child, they won't have a huge effect on the fertility rate anyway. And that is a sort of mindset now in urban China of having one child.
SABAPATHY: Rapid urbanisation alongside growing affluence in China are also having an impact on population growth says Arie Hoekman.
HOEKMAN: There is a natural tendency by people who are becoming affluent to have less children. There is a similar tendency occuring in the eastern provinces that are showing much lower fertility than what was probably envisaged by the leadership when this population policy was put in place.
SABAPATHY: The CDRF report also proposes the total removal of all birth limits by 2020 arguing that by then people will make more rational decisions on birth issues. Besides it says the government should return the rights of reproduction to the people. A bold statement indeed for a country which at one time controlled not only its people's reproductive rights but also their rights as to who one marries. Prof. Hesketh says the chances of China completely removing any limits on the number of children a couple can have is not on the cards.
HESKETH: They still want to control growth, they don't want the population to rise very dramatically. Many experts say China's fantastic economic growth has been because they have controlled the population in the last generation.
SABAPATHY: This week China's National People's Congress will endorse a new leadership for the country. Xi Jinping is expected to be elected as secretary general of the all powerful Chinese Communist Party which would ensure him the presidency early next year. Prof Hesketh says endorsing the CDRF's proposal to allow all couples to have two children could well work in Mr Xi's favour and China's image.
HESKETH: They know its not popular internationally. They know that people describe it as human rights abuse. So they know it will be good for the chinese image in the world to lift it.