HONG KONG – Free college education and equal rights for unmarried women are among proposals being urged by members of China’s top political advisory body to boost the country’s birth rate after its population fell last year for the first time in six decades.
The proposals come ahead of the upcoming Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which kicks off on March 4. The once-a-year gathering mostly overlaps with the National People’s Congress (NPC), where a new leadership team under President Xi Jinping will be endorsed.
China should remove restrictions on marital status used to register newborns, allowing unmarried women to enjoy fertility services like married women do, Xie Wenmin, a member of China’s top political advisory body, told the state-backed Global Times this week.
Current government rules dictate only married women are legally allowed to give birth but some provinces such as China’s southwestern province of Sichuan started allowing singles to have children in February.
China’s shrinking population is pushing authorities to roll out incentives and measures to boost the population including expanding maternity leave, financial and tax benefits for having children as well as housing subsidies.
Paternity leave should also be increased to make men share parenting responsibilities, said CPPCC member Gan Huatian on Wednesday.
Families who have a third child born after 2024 should get free college education, CPPCC delegate Zhao Dongling said on Thursday, a proposal that was one of the top trending topics on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
Much of China’s demographic downturn is the result of its one-child policy imposed between 1980 and 2015. Even after authorities scrapped the rule, high childcare and education costs are cited as a key reason for having fewer children.
Last year, China recorded its lowest ever birth rate, of 6.77 births per 1,000 people.
Jilin in northeastern China, which has one of the lowest birth rates in the country, modified its rules in 2002 to permit single women to access in vitro fertilisation (IVF) but it has had little impact as it is still banned nationally under the country’s National Health Commission.
Lu Weiying, a member of China’s top political advisory body, told the Global Times this week she would propose allowing unmarried women to access egg freezing to preserve their fertility and include infertility treatments in the public health insurance system.
Currently IVF and egg freezing in China are banned for unmarried women.