China strives to lower costs of having children to raise birth rate

The Chinese government said the after-school tutoring sector would be strictly regulated to reduce costs for parents.
The Chinese government said the after-school tutoring sector would be strictly regulated to reduce costs for parents.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • China said it would "strictly regulate" the after-school tutoring sector as part of efforts to cut the cost of having children and help raise its birth rate.

"Population is key to sustaining economic development," the Central Committee of the Communist party and the State Council said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

The notice provided some insight into how the May decision to allow all married couples to have three children will be implemented, promising to abolish fines and other punishments such as loss of jobs for civil servants.

The family planning law will need to be revised for the three-child policy to come into effect, the statement said. It also pledged to reduce costs of childbirth, parenting and education, and also look into making more childcare services tax-deductible.

Demographers and Chinese parents have said such costs, not birth restrictions, are the main cause of declining birth rates in China.

The statement did not give details of the measures planned against online tutoring services, some of which are backed by Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba Group and Tencent and have listed on overseas stock markets.

China's education ministry last month created a dedicated division to oversee after-school education and tutoring following a plethora of restrictions, including caps on the fees firms can charge.

In recent months, several mega-IPOs by tutoring companies have been halted after some major tutoring platforms faced fines for regulatory breaches, with Tencent-backed VIPKid and Huohua Siwei delaying US listings.

The statement added that the quality of schools across China should become more balanced to prevent a "fever" among parents to get their children into top institutions. The government already announced in its current five-year plan that it aims to increase the number of nursery school places for infants under three years old to 4.5 per 1,000 people by 2025.

The statement also said that women's employment rights should be better enforced, following reports of increased discrimination against women by employers following the relaxation of birth restrictions. Provinces will need to report population policy plans to China's central government every year, the statement added.

Amid the uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic, China's births last year were the lowest in almost six decades. That has been declining steadily since the 1960s, with a small and temporary uptick following the introduction of a nationwide two-child limit in 2016.

The declining birth rate means China's population, currently at 1.41 billion, may begin to shrink before 2025.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2021, with the headline 'China strives to lower costs of having children to raise birth rate'. Subscribe