China’s strict one-child policy is blamed for failing to count 12 million children in the 2010 census—equivalent to Belgium’s current population—partly as parents might hide births to avoid punishment, Bloomberg reported on Nov. 24.

The latest statistical yearbook released by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) puts the number of children born during the 2000–2010 period at 172.5 million, well above the 160.9 million in that age group recorded in the 2010 census.

After more than three decades of a Malthusian family planning regime, China only started allowing all couples to have a second child in 2016.  According to independent demographer He Yafu, this means some parents would not officially report a newborn if they breached the quota until the child turned six and were obliged to register for school.

Data shows that about 57% of the children later registered were girls, implying the discrepancy could be partially linked to parents not reporting girls so they could continue to try for a boy, Bloomberg explained.

Another factor contributing to the difference between the two statistical numbers is that the 2010 census was conducted at the beginning of November 2010, so it would have missed births in the last two months of the year.

Also, census surveys typically exclude people who have died or emigrated in the intervening years.

Photo: Bloomberg/Screenshot via The BL.

According to Bloomberg, birth rates for 2011 to 2017 were also revised upwards in the latest statistical yearbook, suggesting the problem of underestimating the number of children likely continued after 2010.

However, there may be less of a measurement discrepancy in the future as China now effectively removes limits on family size.

Unfortunately, although there are no penalties for exceeding three children, many parents now have little incentive to do so.

According to The Guardian, more young women are pushing back against state propaganda and family pressure, while improving education standards and income levels have delayed marriage and childbirth. In addition, decades of the one-child policy have made single-child households the norm, experts say.

The Guardian refers to the example of Xu Meiru, a 38-year-old mom. Her days typically begin at 5 a.m., don’t end until 11 p.m., and are filled with shuttling her nine-year-old son to school, helping him with his homework, preparing meals, and running an online clothing business. For her, the thought of having a second child is exhausting.

“China should have stopped the policy 28 years ago. Now it’s too late,” said Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a longtime critic of the family planning policies.

Bloomberg reported that the number of births is expected to continue dropping in China, and the total population could start shrinking as early as this year.

By 2050, as much as a third of China’s population will be composed of people over 60 years old, putting severe strain on state services and the children who bear the burden of caring for elderly relatives, The Guardian added.

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