Three-child policy to unleash childbirth potential
China has adopted a decision that allows couples to have three children, together with a slew of supporting measures for its implementation, with the aim of optimizing the country's demographic structure and achieving long-term and balanced population development.
The decision lays out supporting measures in three areas: strengthening child nursery services, reducing the cost of childbearing and improving prenatal and postnatal services.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Yu Xuejun, deputy head of the National Health Commission (NHC), said the decision is more than just an improvement of the two-child birth policy. "These supporting measures focus on public concerns, integrate birth with marriage, bringing-up and education, and can help unleash the birth potential," he said.
There are approximately 42 million infants and children below the age of three in China, one third of whom entail strong demand for child nursery services, and yet only 5.5 percent have access to such services, said Yang Wenzhuang, head of the population and family department of the NHC.
Having no people to look after children is a salient problem that constrains childbirth, Yang said, adding that the shrinking household size has weakened Chinese families' ability to care for the elderly and children.
In response, universal childcare services of various types will be further expanded to relieve the burden on parents who lack adequate time and assistance to take care of their children.
For instance, employers are encouraged to provide childcare services to their staff if conditions permit, while community-based nursery services will be strengthened.
Efforts will be made to support kindergartens in enrolling toddlers aged between two and three years old, instead of the previous standard of three and above, according to the decision.
The supporting measures cover the whole process from marriage, childbearing to bringing-up and education, providing more convenience for new births, said Li Jia, a researcher of the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing-based think tank.
Most Chinese parents have long concerned about the costs of childbearing and education. The new decision puts forward measures that facilitate tax breaks and housing guarantees, as well as ones that ensure education resources, in order to stimulate the desire to have more children.
Consideration is being given to allowing tax deductions on individual incomes for the costs of caring for children aged below three, while families with underage children will benefit from priority and preferential policies regarding the distribution of public rental housing.
The coverage of non-profit kindergartens will be further enhanced and after-school services provided by schools expanded to support the three-child policy, according to Lyu Yugang, an official with the Ministry of Education.
All the compulsory education institutions in the country will provide after-school services from this fall semester, which can be extended depending on the local daily work hours, Lyu said.
The decision also includes measures to employ more flexible work leave for female workers, while protecting the health of pregnant and lying-in women as well as children, and tightening the supervision of human-assisted reproductive technologies and related applications.
An anonymous researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences believed the adoption of the decision and supporting measures "illustrates the government's determination to reform the birth policy and promote the long-term sustainable development of the country."