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In China, Mixed Reaction to Two-child Policy Shift


FILE - China has announced changes to existing laws that restricted families to one child, such as this one, going through swimming exercise at a maternal and child health care hospital in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, December 2012.

After 35 years of limiting most couples to having just one child, China's Communist Party on Thursday announced that it will change existing laws to allow all families to have two children without penalty.

Some welcomed the move and the "warmth" it would bring to families that up until now have been limited to only one child, while others focused on the economic challenges the policy shift might bring, highlighting just how big a struggle the government has ahead.

The change is largely based on the growing economic pressures facing China.

Shrinking workforce

While the country has a massive population, those who were born before the policy went into place, who came from bigger families, are becoming a bigger portion of the population. All of this is unfolding against the backdrop of China's shrinking labor force.

FILE - A Chinese woman cuddles her child in Beijing, China, March 6, 2014. China announced Thursday it was ending its long-standing one-child policy and will now allow all couples to have two children.
FILE - A Chinese woman cuddles her child in Beijing, China, March 6, 2014. China announced Thursday it was ending its long-standing one-child policy and will now allow all couples to have two children.

Haohao, a 23-year-old Beijinger who hopes to get married soon, said she had always wanted to have two children.

"Being able to have more kids will create a happier environment in the home," she said. "With two kids, one can take care of the other. Families will be warmer and more full of love, and when you get older there will be more children to help take care of you."

What to Know About China's One-child Policy

China's One-child Policy

Policy: China first instituted its one-child policy in 1980 in a bid to control the country’s population, which is the world's largest, at nearly 1.4 billion.

Controversy: The restrictions have led to an imbalanced sex ratio because of a traditional preference for boys -- studies say there are 117 boys for every 100 girls. Also, heavy-handed enforcement sometimes included forced abortions and sterilizations.

Amendments: In late 2013, China began to allow couples, one of whom has no siblings, to have a second child.

Why the change: The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimates the workforce will being losing as many as 1.55 million people every year before 2020, 7.9 million between 2020 and 2030, and as many as 8.35 million between 2030 and 2050.

Will new policy help? Analysts say a two-child policy will do little to help lift the country’s declining birth rate or shrinking workforce.

Also, Professor Jiang Quanbao of Xi'an Jiantong University said too many people of child-bearing age may no longer want two children. And even with the new policy, it will take 20 years before those children could enter the workforce.

Gradual shift

The government has gradually been loosening its one-child policy, providing more exceptions to family-size regulations, but that has not halted the decline in the country's working population.

One man surnamed Li welcomed the move, saying the one-child policy has been gradually eroding the whole concept of family, and that fewer and fewer children have aunts or uncles.

"The impact of the policy on myself and others was too much," he said. "If my son was to pass away, if something were to happen to him, what would I do then? There would be nothing left to live for."

Public reaction on social media was erratic, much like news coverage in China.

The top story on Wangyi, a major news app, talked about the economic challenges of having too many children. Another story promoting the policy change was full of cute baby pictures, twins and happy families.

One woman in Beijing wrote: "I can't even dare to think about having a child. Having one child is like fulfilling a responsibility, and a second would be like creating an even bigger burden."

In addition to all that women have to go though in bearing a child, she said, China's marriage law gives women too few protections. Not to mention the costs of raising a child, she added.

Resistance to change

Some even urged the party to keep its original policy in place, citing concerns about financial burdens of family life.

"The more kids you have, the poorer you get," a Wangyi user in Shandong wrote.

Other comments touched on a hard truth that many men in China face: the massive population gap between men and women, due to social preferences for male babies.

"I don't even have a girlfriend," one user from Beijing wrote.

Others were more upbeat in support of the policy shift. One posting from a parent in Tianjin asked whether his family could get a refund for the fines already paid for having a second child.