As part of a nationwide registry system, married couples in Sichuan province were most recently allowed to register up to two children to qualify for benefits including insurance and paid leave. Under the new policy, beginning on Feb. 15, unmarried parents in Sichuan can register an unlimited number of children.
The policy stands out as a stark shift from the years of coercive control that limited most families to a single child since 1980. China’s one-child policy meant decades of forced abortions, sterilizations and the coercive use of intrauterine devices. It led to a rise in sex-selective abortions that resulted in men outnumbering women.
Although the rules were updated to allow for two children in 2016, that change has done little to keep the population from shrinking, a threshold which the country officially crossed in 2022, years earlier than experts had predicted.
The demographic concerns threaten the vision of an ascendant China that has been a cornerstone of Xi Jinping’s leadership, as an aging workforce jeopardizes the country’s labor-reliant economy.
State media described the policy in Sichuan as an “exploratory step.” An official from the Sichuan health commission told local media that the policy was intended to safeguard the rights of single mothers, not to encourage unmarried people to become parents. The commission’s announcement said the policy would promote “long-term and balanced population development.”
According to a 2021 survey by China’s Communist Youth League, 44 percent of young women and 25 percent of young men in China’s urban areas reported they did not want to get married.
To make registration easier, the health commission encouraged parents to use the WeChat social media platform to submit birth records, and said while parents should register births ahead of time, registrations would be accepted retroactively for births that had already taken place.
Unmarried women have previously sued for their childbirth expenses to be covered by insurance, as well as for access to egg freezing and other fertility treatments. Though the new policy in Sichuan will finally allow single parents to access the benefits long granted to married couples, child-care costs are high in a society built around single-child households, where not only parents but two sets of grandparents focus on a child’s development.
Despite the demographic crisis, some young people in China cite the high cost of child care among the factors influencing their decision not to have children. As ideas like “lying flat” and “letting it rot” — effectively “quiet quitting,” and resigning oneself to letting a bad situation disintegrate further — have trended on social media, some young people say their disillusionment is compounded by rising unemployment and high costs of housing and child care.
*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.