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Baby Boom Set to Start Next Year

A mini-baby boom is expected to start next year as a result of the country's family planning policy, an official has said.

Zhang Weiqing, minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said he expects the boom to last for more than 10 years and put great pressure on the government in its efforts to manage population growth.

Speaking at a national conference on the rural population and family planning over the weekend in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province, Zhang said, however, that the boom will be relatively small in comparison to those of the early 1950s and 60s and the late 80s.

Zhang said that many of the children born in the years following the introduction of the national family planning policy in 1973, were now of marriageable age.

Also, a change in the law in 1984 that allowed rural couples to have a second child if their first was a girl has also created a spike in the number of people approaching the typical age for marriage, he said.

Over the past 30-plus years, the family planning policy has played a central role in stabilizing the country's population, as well as aiding economic and social development.

Experts have estimated that the current population of about 1.3 billion would have been nearer 1.7 billion had the policy not been introduced.

According to official figures, the average number of children born to each family is currently 1.8, compared to 5.8 in the early 70s.

Zhang said the family planning laws will remain to maintain the low birth rate.

However, despite the regulations, the country is still facing a stiff challenge to keep the number of births down, he said.

"The desire to have boys or more than one child is deep-rooted and still very strong, especially in rural areas," Zhang said.

"The contradiction between that desire and the current family planning policy remains acute."

A survey conducted by the National Population and Family Planning Commission last year showed that nearly 80 percent of couples planning to start a family said that they wanted to have both a boy and a girl.

In addition, 41 percent of couples living in urban areas whose first child was a girl said that they wanted to have a second child and hoped it was a boy.

Wang Linqing, a 33-year-old father from Beijing, told China Daily that, "having two children, a boy and a girl, was one of his biggest hopes".

That sentiment is not only much more prevalent in rural areas, but also frequently made a reality, Zhang said.

Couples within the floating rural population, which is currently estimated at about 140 million, often unlawfully have more than one child outside their hometowns to escape government inspection, he said.

(China Daily December 12, 2007)

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