Chinese social media is abuzz with skepticism, ridicule, and sorrow on the newly announced three-child policy in a bid to reverse the country’s falling birth rate.
On Monday, the eve of International Children’s Day, it was announced that China would further relax its family planning policy to allow all couples to have up to three children. The decision stoked an online debate if it had come too late. The major policy shift will include supportive measures “conducive to improving our country’s population structure,” the official Xinhua news agency said without giving any details which further raised debates whether it was too little.
The most popular comment on a Weibo post for this announcement was “I don’t quite understand. What’s the meaning of supportive measures?”. Until more details about the supportive measures are announced, many on social media are skeptical that the policy change will actually do much to boost birth rates. Another popular comment said, “opening up the birth policy is essential and in line with societal needs, but if we don’t support people in giving birth, raising children and educating them, no matter how open the policy, our youth will be reluctant.”
A Weibo poll by Chinese state news agency Xinhua asking, “Are You Ready for the Three Child Policy?” was ridiculed by some when an overwhelming 90% of the respondents replied, “I am not considering three kids at all”, with only a few hundred people indicating a more positive stance on the policy. The poll was apparently soon deleted. When China scrapped its decades-old one-child policy in 2016 to replace it with a two-child limit, it failed to lead to a sustained upsurge in births. Many – mostly millennials – wondered how the announcement coincided with plans to delay retirement ages in the country. Both were announced together on Monday.
Others called for compensation for the trauma their families suffered for wanting more children in the past. Under China’s strict one-child policy which was introduced in 1979, families caught flouting the rules faced fines, loss of employment and sometimes forced abortions. Critics say it also led to issues like female infanticide, and the under-reporting of female births.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International said the policy, like its predecessors, was still a violation of sexual and reproductive rights. “Governments have no business regulating how many children people have. Rather than ‘optimising’ its birth policy, China should instead respect people’s life choices and end any invasive and punitive controls over people’s family planning decisions,” said the group’s China team head, Joshua Rosenzweig.
The high costs of raising a child, expensive housing, and children undergo private tuition in addition to public schools amid a fiercely competitive education system have dissuaded many from having more than one kid, especially in big cities, with families preferring to focus their resources on a single offspring. Critics of Chinese birth policy said the decades-long one-child policy entrenched attitudes. After almost 40 years of most couples having just one child, a three-person nuclear family is now the norm. Social and economic patterns cater to the one-child policy, so the inertial effects linger on.
Despite all the criticism and online jokes, there are also those who are genuinely happy that having three children is now allowed for all couples. Recurring comments praise the freedom that comes with the loosening of family planning policies: “If you want to have more children, you can. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to,” reported one website which tracks the trends on weibo.