BEIJING (Reuters) - A year after China eased its one-child policy, fewer people than expected have applied for permission to have a second child, state media said on Monday, raising concerns among scholars that China could face a demographic crisis as birth rates decline.
The figures cited by the China Youth Daily will add to growing calls for the government to scrap all family planning restrictions as China faces the prospect of becoming the first country in the world to get old before it gets rich.
While China is the world's most populous nation with 1.34 billion people, many analysts say the one-child policy has shrunk China's labour pool, hurting economic growth. For the first time in decades, the working-aged population fell in 2012.
In late 2013, China said it would ease family planning restrictions to allow millions of families to have two children in the country's most significant liberalisation of its strict one-child policy in about three decades.
Under the reform, couples in which one parent is an only child would be allowed to have a second child.
Critics say the relaxation of rules was too little, and came too late to redress substantial negative effects of the one-child policy on the economy and society.
According to the newspaper's calculations, about 30,000 families in Beijing, just 6.7 per cent of those eligible, applied to have a second child. The Beijing government had said last year that it expected an extra 54,200 births annually as a result of the change in rules.
In Liuzhou city, in the southern Guangxi region, only 20 per cent of eligible families applied, while in Guilin city 30 per cent applied. And in Anhui, a largely poor central province, just 12 per cent applied, the newspaper said.
The newspaper cited a demographic expert as saying that families were worried about the cost of raising a second child.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission said on Monday that nearly one million couples have applied to have a second child, saying the number was "in line with expectations", Xinhua news agency said.
Couples who flout family planning laws are, at minimum, fined, some lose their jobs, and in some cases mothers are forced to abort their babies or be sterilised.