A new family planning policy will be rolled out across China next year, offering financial support to farmers who have less children.
From 2007, the mother and father of every one-child family and those with two daughters, both living in rural areas will each receive 600 yuan (US$72) 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 in place in 23 provinces and regions since 2002, covering a total of 1.35 million senior citizens in rural areas, Zhang Shaochun, assistant minister of the Ministry of Finance, 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 the 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 local governments' main enforcement measure was to impose fines on rural families that violated the policy.
And experts said although imposing fines has contributed to the project's success, 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.
In rural areas farmers often hope for 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.
So to support ageing parents who only have one child or two daughters, and to encourage them to obey the national policy, governments at various levels have initiated favourable measures, such as the annual allowance for parents.
China is now an aging society, with about 10 percent of the population over 60 a challenge to the country's lagging welfare system.
Nearly 80 percent of the 700 million rural residents have no medical insurance or other welfare care, 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 is quite heavy.
In response experts have appealed to the government to take measures to help them.
In a report about the pilot projects, revealed by the Development Research Centre of the State Council yesterday, experts said 95 percent of senior residents in rural parts of Jiangxi, Gansu and Shanxi, who only have one child or two girls, run into financial difficulty.
Although US$72 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 centre.
Encouraged by the policy, more and more farmers in the pilot areas prefer to have only one child, and the average population increase has slowed to just 2.8 points per one thousand, 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 through all of western China in early 2007.
But despite the projects' success, experts have called on the government to raise the amount of money offered to parents who chose to have only one child, complaining that US$72 a year is too little for an elderly person living in poverty.
So far a total of only 1 billion yuan (US$12 million) has been spent on the project, Wei said.
(China Daily October 16, 2006)