China adopts tough measures to curb population boom

China announced strict new policies yesterday aimed at controlling a surge in childbirth that has surpassed official targets and threatens to offset gains from economic reform. The number of newborns has exceeded state quotas for the past two years, official statistics show. This raises the specter of food and housing shortages and stagnant per capita income in years to come.

According to government projections, the rapid birthrate led China's population to swell to more than 1.07 billion by the end of 1987.

If the population growth stabilizes at its current rate, China will have 1.284 billion people by the year 2000 - 84 million more than planned for by the government.

``Our country is faced with an acute population situation, and the task of population control is arduous,'' said Liang Jimin, director of the General Office of China's State Family Planning Commission, at a press conference Monday.

The Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily recently described the problem more bluntly: ``China is once again facing a population crisis.''

In order to curb the booming population, Mr. Liang said, China will follow a nationwide policy of rewarding or penalizing local officials based on how well they enforce population quotas in their cities, towns, and villages.

``Those family planning cadres who are doing well ... will get benefits, and those who are not doing well will not get benefits or will even be punished,'' said Liang. He indicated later that the benefits mentioned will be financial.

Chinese officials have admitted in the past that some zealous local cadres have forced women to have abortions, even in the last trimester of pregnancy.

In 1986, there were 53 abortions to every 100 births in China, the officials said Monday.

Liang said the aplication of family planning policies is ``ineffective'' in some parts of China because of ``slackening of efforts'' by local officials.

``In those areas the number of planned births is low, while the rate of second and third and above births is high,'' he said.

Stronger ``persuasive work'' will be required to convince women to abort if they become pregnant after having a child, said Shen Guoxiang, deputy director of education and publicity with the Family Planning Commission.

Some 15.2 percent of Chinese families currently comply with the ``one-couple, one-child'' policy, designed to limit China's population to 1.2 billion by the end of the century.

The average number of children per family is now 2.3, according to official statistics.

Other measures to halt the rising birth rate will include encouraging women of childbearing age to sign contracts with the government promising to have only one baby. Asked what incentive women would have to agree to such contracts, Liang said they would receive ``better service,'' but declined to be more specific.

In addition, sex education, currently in an experimental phase in 6,000 schools across the country, will be introduced nationwide for junior high and high school students.

Stricter enforcement of laws setting the minimum marriage age at 22 for men and 20 for women is also needed, the family planning officials said.

Liang said the chief underlying cause of the rapid rise in China's population is that women born during the 1962-75 baby boom are entering their childbearing years.

``People born during the baby boom after 1962 are all entering the age of exuberant fertility,'' Liang explained. ``The present population upsurge is primarily caused by the change in the age structure of our population,'' he said.

Liang and other officials also acknowledged that greater rural prosperity has led many of China's 800 million peasants to ignore the ``one child'' regime.

Affluent peasant couples are more willing to pay fines for having additional children, especially since the children are needed to work in the fields. Fines in rural areas are based on varying measures of the household income.

In the cities, where 20 percent of Chinese live, the fines range from 5 to 10 percent of the monthly wage.

Willingness to pay for more than one child is especially strong if the firstborn is a girl, the officials indicated. Chinese parents traditionally seek a son to perpetuate the family line and care for them in old age, because a daughter joins the husband's household upon marriage.

Moreover, the officials said the revived custom of women's marrying at a very young age, increasingly common in the countryside, has contributed to a greater number of ``unplanned'' births, which have constituted 20 to 30 percent of the total in recent years.

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