China is eliminating a trio of agencies responsible for enforcing family planning policies in a further sign the government may be planning to scrap long-standing limits on the number of children its citizens can have.
The move was part of a reorganisation of the National Health Commission announced on Monday that creates a new single department called the Division of Population Monitoring and Family Development responsible for “establishing and perfecting a specialised system for supporting families”.
Expectations of an end to birth limits were also raised by the appearance of a postage stamp last month featuring smiling mother and father cartoon pigs with three piglets.
Alarmed by the rapidly ageing population and shrinking workforce, China abandoned its notorious one-child policy two years ago to allow two children, producing a nearly 8 per cent increase in births in 2016, with nearly half of the babies born to couples who already had a child.
However, that appeared to have been a one-time increase, with 17.2 million births in the country last year, down from 17.9 million in 2016. Meanwhile, the proportion of the population aged 60 or older increased last year to 17.3 per cent.
China currently has the world’s largest population at 1.4 billion, which is expected to peak at 1.45 billion in 2029.
While authorities credit the one-child policy with preventing 400 million extra births, many demographers argue that the fertility rate would have fallen anyway as China’s economy developed and education levels rose.
Over its 36 years of existence, the policy vastly inflated the ratio of boys to girls as female foetuses were selectively aborted in line with a preference for male offspring. China is predicted to have about 30 million more men than women by the end of the decade.