China eases birth limits to allow families to have three children

China to allow couples to have third child

"To further optimise the birth policy, (China) will implement a one-married-couple-can-have-three-children policy", state news agency Xinhua said in a report on the meeting.

It said leaders agreed "implementing the policy of one couple can have three children and supporting measures are conducive to improving China's population structure".

China's census, released earlier this month, showed that around 12 million babies were born previous year - a significant decrease from the 18 million in 2016, and the lowest number of births recorded since the 1960s.

China's fertility rate stands at 1.3 - below the level needed to maintain a stable population, the figures revealed.

A Monday meeting of the party's powerful Politburo led by Xi announced a further loosening of the state's control over the size of families.

In a poll on Xinhua's Weibo account asking #AreYouReady for the three-child policy, about 29,000 of 31,000 respondents said they would "never think of it" while the remainder chose among the options: "I'm ready and very eager to do so", "it's on my agenda", or "I'm hesitating and there's lot to consider".

Among those measures, China will lower educational costs for families, step up tax and housing support, guarantee the legal interests of working women and clamp down on "sky-high" dowries, it said, without giving specifics.

The change in policy is generally welcomed, although sparked some mixed reactions on Chinese social media.

"Having a kid is a devastating blow to career development for women at my age", said Annie Zhang, a 26 year-old insurance professional in Shanghai who got married in April last year. "Can the country give a hero's award to each of them?" read one comment that gained over 3,000 likes. It would also look to educate young people "on marriage and love". China introduced a "two child policy" in 2016, but the wide consensus is that it failed to have the desired impact.

Su Meizhen, a human resources manager in Beijing, said she was "super-happy" to be pregnant with her third child. "Nobody around me wants to have kids".

Restrictions that limited most couples to one child were eased in 2015 to allow all to have two.

"Most families have a preference for few children now - akin to the rest of Northeast Asia", said Lauren Johnston, a China economics and demography researcher at SOAS University of London.

A third of Chinese are forecast to be elderly by 2050, heaping huge pressure on the state to provide pensions and healthcare. While many encourage the shift and the apparent relaxation of rules, others argue that China should move towards full liberalization of the birth policy.

According to China's last population census, in 2010, there were 13 million unregistered citizens, nearly one percent of the country's total population.

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