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New Subsidies for Rural Families
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A new family planning policy for rural areas will be rolled out across China next year, offering financial support to farmers with fewer children.


From 2007, the parents of one-child families and those with two daughters, both living in rural areas will each receive 600 yuan (US$75.84) a year from the age of 60, said Zhang Weiqing, director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.


A pilot project for the policy has been ongoing in 23 provinces and regions since 2002, covering a total of 1.35 million senior citizens in rural areas, Zhang Shaochun, assistant finance minister, told a national conference on the project.


As the world's most populous country, China launched the one child-policy in the late 1970s to bring its spiraling birthrate under control. Without the policy, the population could have reached nearly 1.7 billion by now, according to the National Population and Family Planning Commission.


However, in the policy's early years, the main enforcement measure for local governments was to impose fines on violators.


Experts said the policy should be adapted as the nation develops. More encouraging measures and public education should be used to raise awareness of the need for family planning and reduce social conflict, they advise.


China is now an aging society, with about 10 percent of the population over 60 a challenge to the country's lagging welfare system. Furthermore, nearly 80 percent of the 700 million rural residents have no medical insurance or any other form of welfare, and depend on their savings and their children to look after them.


For families with only one child, the burden of taking care of their parents can be arduous. Thus in rural areas, farmers usually prefer sons and aim to have at least one boy in their family, even if they are not wealthy enough to support more than one child.


In a report revealed by the State Council's Development Research Center yesterday, experts said 95 percent of senior residents issued from one-child families in rural parts of Jiangxi, Gansu and Shanxi, run into financial difficulty.


In order to support these senior citizens and encourage them to comply with the national policy, governments at various levels have initiated favorable measures, such as an annual allowance for parents in such cases.


Although US$75.84 is only a small amount per person per year, the project still made farmers considerably less worried about falling ill in old age, said Wei Jianmin, an expert from the center, adding that so far a total of only 1 billion yuan (US$126.4 million) has been spent on the project.


Encouraged by the policy, more and more farmers in pilot areas prefer to have only one child, and the average population increase has slowed to just 2.8 points per 1,000, the report said.


Meanwhile, rural families who have permission to have a third child but choose not to, have been offered a one-off award, under another pilot project carried in several western provinces since 2000. The project will be spread throughout western China in early 2007.


But despite the projects' success, experts have called on the government to raise the amount of money offered, complaining that US$75.84 a year is too little for an elderly person living in poverty.


(China Daily October 16, 2006)

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