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Chinese families welcome new two-child policy

Reporter: Joey Catanzaro 丨 CCTV.com

10-24-2016 05:31 BJT

China's two-child policy officially became law in October, 2015. The policy has been welcomed by families across China, and many young parents have been quick to take advantage of the government's new stance.

In this ordinary maternity ward in China, something extraordinary is happening, something rarely seen in this nation for generations.

Regardless of where you are in the world, a newborn child is a very special thing. But this baby right here, who was born just yesterday, is something truly remarkable. Her parents already have a child, which means Dodo, is baby number two, and in China that’s something pretty special. What you’re looking at, right now, is the end of China’s One Child policy.

In the wake of China’s decision to scrap the one child policy, hospitals like this one, are bracing for a baby boom, with estimates suggesting some 90 million Chinese couples are now eligible to have a second child. But after decades of “one is better than two,” some say the writing is on the wall, and few couples will actually choose to have a second baby. A quick glance at the early evidence, suggests they may well be right.
In 2013, China relaxed the policy for the first time. 20 million couples, where one parent was an only child, became eligible to have a second of their own: But two years on, only 12 percent, had chosen to do so.  Those early few who’ve taken the plunge say adapting to the change has literally been a case, of baby steps.

Before, if we’d had a second child there’d have been penalties. Though happy with our one child, we could dream. I work for an SOE, so for sure we weren’t allowed to violate the policy.

In the countryside where we live the walls were plastered with slogans, like: “Have less kids, plant more trees!

A second child? You’d lose your job. And your parents might lose their pension.

It’s the mid-1970s, and the world’s most populous nation, has yet to experience the explosive economic growth that will lift tens of millions out poverty. It’s an era when some four children are born for each woman: More, it’s thought, than both families and the nation can afford. The one child policy was rolled out across the country in the 70s and 80s, in a bid to speed development and increase per capita income. Now it’s been relegated to the history books. But its legacy will take time to shrug off, especially in modern-day Beijing.

The one child policy prevented an estimated 400 million births at a time when it was thought China could least afford them. But there’s another side to that coin. Couples who broke the rules faced forced abortions or heavy fines. This is the situation He Linyan and her husband faced back in 2014. Then, just weeks before the birth of their second child, the family planning rules in Beijing were relaxed, for the first time. And instead of a heavy fine or worse, the couple suddenly found themselves at the forefront, of a new wave of two child families, in China.

This is Zhang Xinwei, and she’s about to turn two-years-old. She shares this bedroom with her parents, He Linyan and Zhang Zhijiang, and her 3-year-old brother Zhang Haoyi. The apartment belongs to Zhijiang’s parents, who sleep in the second bedroom. Zhijiang works for a mobile phone company: Linyan is in sales. They are a typical Beijing family, except for the fact that they have two children, instead of one.

At first, we were really nervous. We prayed the birth wouldn’t be early because our due date was March 6, yes, March 6, 2014. So we were praying,“Please don’t be early,” otherwise we’d be violating the policy. So we were really fortunate and saved a good deal of money! A huge amount. About 200,000 yuan – a new car’s worth.

The rule change came just in time. If little Xinwei had been born just a few weeks earlier, the couple would have been hit with a fine, roughly equivalent to 31 thousand U.S dollars. Their very ordinary family home has suddenly become a weathervane for millions of other average Chinese families, now eligible to have a second child. Linyan and Zhijiang say it’s been an adjustment, and it’s not all smooth sailing. Tears and tantrums are on the up: Haoyi’s just had a fight with his little sister, and she’s got a few scratches to show for it.

There’s a pretty small age gap, just a year and a half. The older brother was just starting to talk, and was jealous when I was holding the little one. He’d say, “Don’t hold my little sister…” What he meant was, he wanted to be held. So I’d ask him, “What about your little sister?” And he’d say, “You can put her on the floor.

D’you hear me? Why did you hit your little sister? If you don’t stop, I’ll tell your teacher.

There’s been a backlash to the end of the policy, from an unexpected quarter. Some only children wish to remain that way.

When he’s playing with a toy he likes, if his little sister wants to play with it he won't be happy.

In China, single children from the one child generations are often referred to as little emperors.

For decades, parents have poured their time and money into these sole heirs, in an effort to boost their prospects. Now it’s a sharing game. And while the adults in the family are learning to adjust to the changed dynamic and increased cost of a second child, Haoyi is adjusting, too. The little emperor, has to learn to live, with the little empress.

We need mom and dad and grandma and grandpa to take turns feeding them. Then, two eat while two watch the kids. With two kids, we don’t get a chance to sit down together for a family meal.

Two of the most commonly voiced concerns in China about having a second child are the cost, and the burden it may place on the grandparents, who typically help raise children, while mum and dad work.

They married late. Now there’s the second child. Think of our age. Helping to raise them is ruining our health!

We definitely need mom and dad to help out, with money and babysitting. It takes a lot of energy. Without them we wouldn’t have had a second child.

Walk down the streets of China, and it’s difficult to believe the most populous nation on the planet could use more people. But since 2012, the number of working age Chinese has been falling, and the nation is growing old before it’s time. The vast reserves of cheap labour that speeded China’s development, are disappearing, as millions of workers retire each year. It’s driving up wages and costs for business. On this building site, most of the workers are close to joining the 14 percent of the population who are now retired.

We’re really short of labourers. These workers are all around 50, or older. Some are in their 60s. Wages have shot up in the past five years and are bound to do so again in the next five.

The number of Chinese people under the age of 14 is declining, as is the number of workers. But by 2030 the number of retirees is set to soar to 400 million: More than the populations of the US and UK combined. More old people straining services and households, and less workers to drive growth, is a problem China’s still-developing economy isn’t ready for.

The solution, more babies, may lie with couples like this one in Beijing. Zong Ke and Zhang Xue belong to China’s rising middle class. They have two apartments, two cars, and two children.

"After having our second little one we went through a period of reflection. Maybe she’d have to quit her job. Grandma would have her hands full with two kids. So I’d have to quit my job to take care of them," Zhang said.

Coco and her sister Abby aren’t the result of the relaxed family planning rules: Their parents were exempt. Almost 40 percent of the population, generally in the countryside, has always been allowed to have two babies, and typically they’ve done so.
But the end of the policy in the cities reveals it wasn’t the only thing holding families back. A picture is emerging, of an urban China, that doesn’t want two kids.

For a population to remain steady and sustainable, each woman has to have at least two children, to replace her and her husband when they die. In China the national average birthrate has fallen to 1.4 children, per woman: And that’s a problem. But there’s an even bigger issue. More than half of China’s population now live in urban areas, where the birthrate has fallen, to just 0.9 children per woman: Far below the one child, they were always allowed to have. So for the new two child policy to gain traction it has to be effective here, in big cities like Beijing.

On the face of it, China’s plummeting birthrate isn’t unique. The number of births is falling across much of Asia, but it’s worse for China, even though its birthrate is predicted to gradually to rise while the Asian average falls. Unlike some of its neighbors, China’s is still a developing economy. And the bite of fewer babies, which means less workers, is being felt.

Parents with two kids have even more to learn about being good parents. You have to be a referee. But without intruding on their relationship. I think this is something our generation really needs to experience. For our parents, we were their only child. So they’d get involved a lot in our lives, from school to work to marriage. They’d get involved in everything, as they wanted us to have the best of everything.

With the pension system still developing, there’s a traditional expectation children will financially support their parents and grandparents, in old age. Long term, two children, could make economic sense. But for generations money has been poured into a single child to increase their prospects. Many parents believe that in the short term, splitting their money between two children, will damage everyone’s future:

Our monthly expenditure’s about 20,000 yuan. When they’re small it’s mostly infant formula and diapers. When they get to kindergarten age, it’s tuition fees.

Infant formula, diapers, toys, clothes… I mean, it doesn’t sound too expensive. But in the long run, it’s a huge expense. All our attention is on our kids, totally on the kids.

For Beijing based migrant workers Zhu Ke and Li Qiao, the policy change, is something they’ve been waiting and hoping for.

Their son Shao Shao, is almost three years old. And they’re excited about the prospect of giving him a little brother or sister, soon.

The family represents a demographic, believed to number in the millions, who have been crying out for the relaxation of the family planning rules. The family budget is strict, and mum and dad, perhaps unusually in China, don’t believe spending a lot of money is essential for their child’s happiness. But they do think a sibling is. Zhu Ke, who works in IT, has a twin brother. His wife, who is a stay at home mum, has two siblings. Neither can imagine what life would be like for their child, growing up alone. But until now, having baby number two, was not a choice they could make.

This tiny apartment on the outskirts of Beijing is home to four migrant worker families. Even though there’s already seven people crammed inside these four walls, Zhu Ke and his wife Li Qiao say, there’s room for one more.

A bed, a laptop, and not much else: This is the single room, where the family live, sleep and eat.

But not everybody feels the same way. On this farm in Zhejiang province, and across much of the nation, the mentality that one child is better than two, has taken root, for a whole host of reasons.

Most people of our age, around 40, say, “No second child.” It’s too much trouble, too tiring. We couldn’t enjoy life. It’d be all about him enjoying his. Once, when our son was misbehaving I joked with him, saying: “I’ll give you a new little brother or sister,” and he said, “No, definitely not!

A lot of women who have a second child give up their careers to become full-time moms. For myself, as a modern woman I need my career and my independence.

I think it’s better to have just one child. I can give him all my love and look after him well. One’s enough. Two is tiring.

I want time to pursue my own interests. With a second child, our quality of life would probably decline.

This is Zhoushan, an archipelago, just off China’s south-east coast, where 98 percent of the population could previously only have one child. It’s a popular holiday destination and a marine industry hub. It’s also a demographic time bomb. For more than a decade, it’s recorded negative population growth, and more than 20 percent of the locals are now 60 years or older. By 2030, if the aging problem here remains unchecked, about 40 percent of residents will be retired. This is why Zhoushan became the first place in China to usher in the relaxed family planning rules in 2013. It’s now arguably the most accurate early weathervane for gauging if the rest of the nation will choose to have a second child, now that they can. But the early signs aren’t promising.

Only 1,000 out of 20,000 eligible Zhoushan couples chose to have a second baby after the 2013 reform. Now that the one-child policy has been scrapped entirely, another 60,000 couples here can have a second child. But a recent survey found that just 11 percent of those couples, actually wants one. And almost 60 percent of the women now eligible to have baby number two, are aged 40 plus.

"Under the new “2 kids for all” policy the average age of conception will rise. So we now offer “Second Child Outpatient Services”, along with the usual “Neonatal Care Services” and “Pre-natal Nutrition Services”, providing specialist care to protect the health of expectant mothers.

Age is proving no deterrent for women waiting sometimes decades for another look at this view.

My name is Dai Fengdi, I’m 43 years old, and I’m a baby doctor (pediatrician), now I have (am pregnant with) a second baby. I’m very happy to know this news. I want this news three years, a little longer. Somebody at 43, may be a grandmother.

It’s impossible to know how many Chinese parents will choose to have a second child, now that they can. What’s most important, for those that have waited and wanted, is that the choice is now theirs to make.

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