ONLY 700,000 newly qualified couples have applied to have a second child this year, according to Chinese health officials, far below earlier estimates that an easing in the country’s birth policy would add one million to two million extra births annually in the first few years.
Zhao Yanpei, a senior official at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said the numbers had been lower than expected.
However, he added that it was too early to conclude what effects the new policy would have in coming years on China’s fertility rate, which is now at 1.5 to 1.6 births per woman.
Last year, China eased its one-child policy to allow couples in which one partner has no siblings to have two children. Couples in which both partners have no siblings and rural families whose firstborn child was a girl already had been allowed to have a second child for many years.
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Demographers said last year that the easing was so incremental that a baby boom would be unlikely. They also noted that Chinese young people no longer wished for big families, and, even when they could, have opted not to have a second child.
The lower-than-expected number of applications for a second child has had some critics arguing for the abolition of China’s strict family planning policies, which have limited most urban families to only one child. They say China’s low birth rate will cause the country to age quickly and hurt its economic viability.
Mr Zhao said the number was low partly because some provinces did not implement the rules until the middle of 2014 to allow newly qualified couples to apply to have a second baby.
“Because of concerns over child-bearing and child-raising costs, or other career-related considerations, many young couples are not in a hurry to have children,” he said. “As far as birthing is concerned, the policy has a time lag. It would be at least until the second year or the third year before we can tell if the overall birthing level would see any major change.”
Mr Zhao said there was no timetable for abolishing the one-child policy.
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