Beijing: Chinese provinces have started announcing a slew of supportive measures, including childbearing subsidies and tax cuts, to motivate couples to have three children to prevent a steep decline in the birth rates in the world’s most populous country.

China’s national legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), had formally endorsed the three-child policy in August, in a major policy shift to address the deepening demographic crisis in the country.

It passed a revised Population and Family Planning Law, which allows Chinese couples to have three children, in an apparent attempt to address the reluctance of the Chinese couples to have more kids due to mounting costs.

More than 20 provincial-level regions of China have completed modifications to their local childbirth regulations since the country passed an amendment to its Population and Family Planning Law in August.

Localities including Beijing, Sichuan and Jiangxi have rolled out supportive measures highlighting increased leave for couples, such as offering parental leave, extending maternity leave and marriage leave, and increasing paternity leave, state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

“Government should play a leading role in sharing the cost of childbearing,” National Health Commission official Yang Wenzhuang said, calling for more supportive measures in nursery services, childbearing subsidies and tax cuts.

The amendment to the Population and Family Planning Law allows couples to have three children and stipulates supportive measures. It also cancels relevant restrictive measures, including fines for couples who violate the law to have more children than they are permitted.

China permitted all couples to have two children in 2016, scrapping the draconian decades-old one-child policy which policymakers blame for the demographic crisis in the country.

The decision to permit the third child came after the once-in-a-decade census showed that China’s population grew at the slowest pace to 1.412 billion amid official projections that the decline may begin as early as next year.

The new census figures revealed that the demographic crisis China faced was expected to deepen as the population above 60 years grew to 264 million, up by 18.7 per cent last year.

Adding to the crisis was the decline of marriages in the country. The number of marriage registrations in China has fallen for seven consecutive years and hit a 17-year low last year, figures from the recently released China Statistical Yearbook 2021 showed.

A total of 5.87 million couples got married in China in the first three quarters of 2021, down slightly from the same period of last year, according to data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

It is expected that the number of marriage registrations in China will continue to decline in 2021, according to recent official media reports.

Outlining the reasons for the falling marriage registrations, He Yafu, a demographic expert, identified decline in the number of young people in China as one of the reasons.

The population of the post-80s, post-90s and post-2000s in China has been on the decline, he said.

Also, the desire of young people to get married has generally fallen due to reasons such as the high work pressure and the great improvement of women’s education level and economic independence, he told state-run China Daily earlier.

Another major reason is the unbalanced ratio of male and female population. In China, men outnumber women by 34.9 million as per the seventh National Census.

Among them, there are 17.52 million more men in their 20s than women of marriageable age.

In addition, the high cost of living, including soaring housing prices, is also a big obstacle to young people wanting to get married and have children, he said.

In China, marriage and childbirth are closely linked, and the proportion of children born out of wedlock is low, He said. So the decline in marriage registration is bound to have a negative impact on the birth rate, he said.

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