The Three-Child Policy: China to Fight Population Crisis

Graphic by Bhavesh Govindani

The three-child policy is the newest of the family planning policies implemented by the People’s Republic of China. On 31st May 2021, the Chinese president and the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Mr. Xi Jinping, announced the three-child policy at the CCP Politburo meeting, to address the issue of the rapidly ageing Chinese population. This policy allowed Chinese couples to have up to three children, scrapping the previous policy limit of two. China saw a drop in the birth rate for the fourth continuous year in 2019, despite implementing the two-child policy in 2015 by scrapping the one-child policy. The government assured that there would be supportive measures to ensure improving the population structure of the country. They also mentioned that they would consider delaying the retirement age but refused to go into the details.

Evolution of China’s family planning policies

As part of the population planning program, the government has been implementing and enforcing birth quotas in China since 1979. Although it was only a recommendation then, these policies were introduced as early as the 1950s. In the 1970s, the government implemented stricter rules by restricting couples in China to two children. In 1979, this evolved into the one-child policy to address the overpopulation crisis that China was facing. The one-child policy meant that couples could have only one birth. If there was more than one child from a single delivery, it would not be a crime. Punishments for breaking this rule included huge fining and even forced abortions. Government employees lost their jobs if they had more than one child. However, there were many exceptions to this rule.

Although they were able to reduce the population growth rate, it also resulted in the decline of the youth population and a rapidly ageing society. As a result, they implemented the two-child policy in 2015, which allowed people to have up to two children. An initial rise in the fertility rate was seen, but it quickly went downhill. Despite allowing couples to have more children, the birth rate continued to drop. This forced the Chinese government into announcing the three-child policy. China went from restricting people from having more children to encouraging them for the same in less than 50 years.

Why announce this now?

The Chinese census happens once every ten years, the last one was in 2020. A significant decline in the population growth rate and fertility rate was seen in the census. The last decade showed the slowest rise in the annual growth rate in the past 60 years. The drop in the population of the younger generation would lead China into a huge crisis in the coming years due to the lack of human resources. To prevent this, the Chinese government had to act as soon as possible. 

How did the Chinese react?

Surveys and polls conducted by different agencies found that the majority of people were not open to the idea of having three children. Only a small share of the participants even considered having a second child. Many argue that the high living cost and lack of economical child-care in China are the reasons for this. Surveys and economists predict that without proper supportive measures to take the burden off the parents, the chances of people having three children are rare. The Chinese government assures supportive measures like lowering educational costs, increasing housing and tax support, and ensuring more legal support for working women. To avoid the impending crisis, the government needs to take immediate action and provide people with adequate support. 

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