ELIGIBLE COUPLE: He Shaodong and wife Zhou Jun, residents in Hefei City, Anhui Province, show their permit that allows the couple to have a second child, on February 14. Zhou is the only child in her family (LIU JUNXI)
Guangdong, with a permanent population of 104.3 million, was the most populous province in China, according to the sixth national census conducted in 2010.
Nationwide, the policy will affect 15 million to 20 million eligible couples who are at child-bearing age and have already had their first child, said Zhai Zhenwu, a sociology professor with the Beijing-based Renmin University of China and Vice President of the China Population Association. The new policy will mainly affect urban couples of child-bearing age, he added.
The number of eligible families has not increased drastically because there were already a number of exceptions to the family planning policy in place. For instance, rural couples can have a second child if their first child is a girl or is handicapped. Families in which neither parent has siblings are also allowed to have two children, and so are most ethnic minority couples.
Some families, like that of famous film director Zhang Yimou, have already chosen to pay fines and give birth to more children.
Moreover, some families chose not to have a second child even if they are eligible.
Because of the high cost of raising and educating children, many young couples will not grasp the opportunity without consideration, said Yin Zhigang, a professor at the Beijing School of Governance.
Eligible couples in large cities will be less willing to have second child than those in small and medium-sized cities, Zhai said. He noted that in the next four to five years, a small rise in the birth rate will appear, but the overall fertility rate is unlikely to exceed 2 per thousand. According to him, the fertility rate will begin to fall later and remain low for some period.
Although the number of births will increase in the next few years after the implementation of the new policy, it will be close to the number of births around the year 2000, said Wang Peian, Vice Minister of the NHFPC.
According to Wang Peian, official estimations suggest that the total population in 2020 will be substantially lower than 1.43 billion and the population will peak at a figure below 1.5 billion. He said that he is confident that the relaxation of birth control will neither put pressure on China's food security nor on public services like healthcare, education and employment.
Nonetheless, Wang Peian said that family planning, as a basic national policy, shall be maintained on a long-term basis and those who violate the relevant laws and regulations will be punished.
A two-child policy for all couples would be impossible at this time because of the fluctuations in the number of births it would cause and the resulting pressure on public services, Wang Peian added.
Coping with change
After the implementation of the new policy, education and public health organizations are trying to deal with its expected impacts.
"The size of the population directly affects the size of education institutions at various stages and the resources they need, especially kindergartens," said Hua Aihua, Dean of the Pre-School Education Department of East China Normal University in Shanghai.
Even before the implementation of the new policy, kindergartens and obstetrical and pediatric departments of hospitals, particularly those in large cities, are already suffering from shortages. Now, people worry that a possible mini-baby boom will exacerbate the situation.
Because of the influx of migrants, Beijing's kindergartens, primary and middle schools have always been in short supply, an unnamed official of Beijing Municipal Commission of Education told China Education News.
In Zhejiang, education resources are also strained. "Our schools are already full. To ensure children's access to education, we can only enlarge the class size," said Jiang Feng, an official with the Education Bureau of Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang.
Jiang estimated that under the relaxed family planning policy, primary school enrollment will grow by approximately 10 percent. He worried that larger class sizes might lead to poorer education quality.
Meng Fanhua, Vice President of the Beijing-based Capital Normal University, believes that there is still time for educational institutions to adjust for the upcoming increase in enrollment. He said that since babies born this year will enter kindergartens three years later and primary schools six years later, concerned government departments and education institutions should take planned actions to increase supplies to meet the growing demand.
The Shanghai Municipal Commission of Education said that it plans to continue to expand existing kindergartens, primary and middle schools and build new ones to meet the expected enrollment surge.