China to discourage abortions to boost low birth rate

Children play next to adults at a park in Beijing, China on June 1, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

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HONG KONG, Aug 16 (Reuters) – China will discourage abortion and take steps to make fertility treatments more accessible as part of efforts to boost one of the world’s lowest birth rates, its national health authority said on Tuesday.

Support measures ranging from taxation and insurance to education and housing will be improved and implemented, with local governments encouraged to promote child care services and family-friendly workplaces, according to guidelines published on the authority’s website.

The authority said it would promote reproductive health to raise public awareness “to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce medically unnecessary abortions”.

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China’s fertility rate of 1.16 in 2021 was well below the OECD standard of 2.1 for a stable population and one of the lowest in the world.

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The authority said it would guide local governments to gradually incorporate assisted reproductive technology into their national medical systems. Technologies such as IVF are generally very expensive in China and not accessible to unmarried women.

New births in China, with a population of 1.4 billion, are set to hit a record low this year, demographers say, with fewer than 10 million babies compared to 10.6 million last year – already down 11.5% from 2020.

China, which implemented a one-child policy from 1980 to 2015, has officially acknowledged that it is on the brink of a demographic recession. That policy was replaced by a two-child policy in 2016 and changed again in 2021, allowing married couples up to three children.

Over the past year, officials have introduced measures such as tax cuts, maternity leave, increased medical insurance, housing subsidies, extra money for a third child and a crackdown on expensive private tuition.

Tuesday’s guidelines mark the most comprehensive guidance nationally, including a reference to reducing abortions, which have generally been readily available for years.

The authority said the measures were important to “promote the long-term balanced development of the population”.

The number of abortions between 2015 and 2019 was over 9.5 million, according to a National Health Commission report released by the end of 2021.

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Reporting by Farah Master in Hong Kong and Albie Zhang in Beijing;

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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