BEIJING -- The number of newborns in China continues to slide downward, government officials said Wednesday, putting the country at risk of recording an all-time low in childbirths.
The number of births in 2021 will decline for a fourth straight year, Yu Xuejun, a vice minister on the National Health Commission, told reporters.
Last year saw just 12 million births, which is dangerously close to the 11.97 million in 1961, the lowest since the founding of the People's Republic. Consequently, this year could approach or fall below that number
On Tuesday, both the State Council and the Communist Party of China Central Committee announced a comprehensive strategy to promote births, featuring measures that grant relief to households for child-rearing and education.
For example, although children can start attending kindergarten at four years of age, the government will urge institutions to accept children as young as two.
There are currently 42 million children below age three in China, and a third of them are in families that have a strong demand for child care services, according to the National Health Commission. However, nurseries only have the capacity to enroll 5.5% of children under three.
The government will consider allowing parents to deduct from their income tax the cost of raising toddlers under the age of three. Also on the table are rent support for households with minors, as well as perks for home purchases for such families.
Additionally, China will implement a child care leave program on a trial basis in certain regions.
China's total fertility rate stalled at 1.3 birth per woman last year. Yet the government wrote in its comprehensive strategy that it will maintain a cap on births, which was raised to three children in May.
"China's huge population and unbalanced economic growth will remain unchanged for a considerably long time," said Yu, explaining the birth limit. "The decision was made based on the capacity for providing public service, among other factors."