China birth rate hit by dragons

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The Independent Online

A loosening of China's strict family-planning rules, which permit couples only one child, may be hit by a millennium craze coupled with the auspicious year of the dragon, officals said yesterday. The result could be 60m new babies this year.

A loosening of China's strict family-planning rules, which permit couples only one child, may be hit by a millennium craze coupled with the auspicious year of the dragon, officals said yesterday. The result could be 60m new babies this year.

Recent one child, one family policy relaxations mean couples now have greater freedom in choosing when their only child is born and many are choosing this year, which combines the year 2000 with year of the dragon,seen as the most auspicious of the 12 years of the Chinese zodiac.

Hospitals in Peking are already reporting a five percent increase in pregnancies. Further afield, Taiwanese officials are predicting a 20 percent increase in births during the upcoming year, while Singapore is predicting a 10-15 percent rise.

There will be couples who are determined to have their precious offspring in the year of the dragon, which starts on February 5, said Zhang Yuqin, a vice minister of China*s State Family Planning Commission. "There is a possibility that there will be more births this year, although it will not make an overall difference to birth rates," she said.

Traditionally, the dragon is associated with Imperial powers and with the strength of the Chinese nation. This year is especially significant as it is a golden dragon year, which only occurs once every 60 years, and it is coupled with the start of a new century, which many Chinese hope will see their nation emerging as a major world power.

China implemented strict birth controls in the late seventies in a bid to control its burgeoning population. Numbers now stand at around 1.3 billion, and Peking expects the number of Chinese to level off at between 1.5 and 1.6 billion in the middle of this century.

Also included in that figure will be a number of two-children families, which are permitted under a quirk of the system which allows parents who are both only children to have two offspring. With the marriage age in urban areas set around 25 years old, the first generation of "one-child" couples is starting to emerge.

The peak is expected to emerge in cities around 2005.

"We can't predict the number of couples who will exercise the option have two children as the tendency in cities is increasingly towards smaller family sizes," said Chen Shengli, a spokesman for the Commission.

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