Chinese Province Encouraging Couples to Have 2 Children

China's "one-child" population-control policy is to be eased in the southern city of Guangzhou. Officials are encouraging some residents to have two children, in an effort to cope with the area's rapidly aging population. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

Since the late 1970's China has limited most urban couples to one child and rural couples to two, while ethnic minorities were allowed to have more.

The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou is now encouraging one-child couples to have two children instead of one.

China National Family Planning Commission spokesman Yu Xuejun says China is just beginning to face an aging population problem, but only in a few large cities.

"Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai... These places, (if) they encourage only child couples to have children," he said. "I think it does not violate the policy or the law because they are still following family planning policy in having children."

The official China Daily newspaper says by 2010 Guangzhou will have more than one million people over age 60.

Yu acknowledges China's birth-control restrictions have increased the speed of aging in the population and that easing birth restrictions would "partially" resolve the problem. But, he says more work is needed on care for the elderly, especially in the countryside.

"The social security is still not fair because now its main coverage is in the cities," Yu said.

China's tradition of valuing male children over females has led to widespread sex-selective abortions and a growing gender gap that threatens to leave millions of men without wives. Chinese officials, in order to protect their own careers, have forced people to undergo abortions and sterilizations.

Yu says such cases of abuse of power and human rights violations still happen, but not as often as before.

"Regarding officials, there are a lot of law(s) and regulations," he noted. "If you are a communist party member, we have a communist party internal punishment. If you are a civil servant, we have a civil servant law ... that says if you violate the birth quota you will be demoted or in serious cases you will be fired."

Yu says a growing problem is dealing with newly rich Chinese. They simply pay fines for having more children. The commission is trying to find more effective methods of punishment.

Despite the many problems with the policy, the Chinese government says family planning laws have prevented 400 million births, improving the economy and society.