The Chinese province of Sichuan will legalize childbearing for unmarried couples beginning Feb. 15, with no limits on the number of kids they can have.
At present, Sichuan — known for its world-class cuisine — only allows married couples to have children, and they can only register up to two.
The country’s now-defunct one-child policy and high education costs are said to be significant reasons for the decline.
Restrictions arising from the government’s actions to control COVID-19 are also being blamed for plummeting birth rates. Yi Fuxian, a prominent demographer, told Reuters that “China’s zero-COVID policy has led to a zero economy, zero marriages, zero fertility.”
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Birth registration is required for Chinese parents for access to benefits like maternity insurance, which covers paid maternity leave, prenatal healthcare and childhood medical expenses.
Additionally, it is required to secure a household registration document that grants children access to social welfare benefits, including education, as per CNN.
In a statement, the Sichuan provincial health commission said scrapping the marriage requirement shifts the focus from birth registration to “the desire and results of childbearing.”
One official said the new policy also seeks to protect the rights of single mothers as it gives single parents access to the aforementioned benefits enjoyed by married couples.
Ultimately, the new policy aims to “promote long-term and balanced population development,” the health commission said. With a population of over 83 million, Sichuan is currently the fifth most populous city in China.
The issue of population decline — often dubbed as a “demographic time bomb” — is not limited to China.
Neighboring countries such as Korea and Japan are also experiencing falling birth rates. “Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told lawmakers last month. “Focusing attention on policies regarding children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed.”