On January 30, the Health Commission of Sichuan Province announced it would remove restrictions on unmarried people having children as well as scrap the limit on the number of babies per family in an effort to boost the country’s national birth rate. The measure, effective on February 15, will be carried out for the next five years.
Previously, only married couples who wanted to have two children were allowed to register with local authorities. Moreover, those who sought registration outside of marriage faced hefty fines in order to get a hold of documents necessary for their child’s access to education and social services.
The move comes after the population and birth rate in mainland China declined for the first time in 61 years, which triggered heated debates on social media about whether or not having offspring was important or even a financially feasible option for aspiring families. In fact, more and more young Chinese people are rejecting marriage and childbirth altogether, listing high costs of living, increased career pressure and social expectations on women as some of the reasons for skipping out on starting a family.
Following the announcement of the legal amendment in Sichuan, word spread like wildfire on Chinese social media. In less than 24 hours, the hashtag “Sichuan Provincial Birth Registration Service Management Measures” amassed a whopping 270 million views.
Netizens’ reactions varied greatly, with some supporting the policy for its reproductive freedom and others criticising the new regulation for its blatant desperation to increase birth rates. Some even speculated that the latest policy would encourage unmarried childbirth, to which the Health Commission renounced by stating that the policy in place is strictly meant to monitor the nation’s population.
With these new measures in place for the next five years, the province of Sichuan aims to encourage more people to have children and combat the government’s concerns about an ageing population in the economy. Given that Sichuan ranks seventh in the nation with a population aged 60 and over, the province has become the prime testing ground for the new national initiative.