Aswathe of Asia showcases two faces of a demographic crisis. While population imbalance ~ owing to trans-border migration ~ is one side of the coin in South Asia, the other side is exemplified by China’s declining birth rate, indeed to the lowest level ever since the Communist country was founded in 1949. It is pretty obvious that efforts to control the baby boom with the introduction of the one-child policy have come a cropper. Data furnished by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics over the weekend point to 14.6 million births in 2019, a drop of about 500,000 from the year before.

This is the third year in a row that the number of births has fallen. It was the lowest number in the seven decades since the country was founded, with the exception of 1961 when tens of millions are said to have perished in a famine. Although the birth-rate had fallen further in 2019, the decline was less than in the previous year when the rate fell to 10.94 per thousand, from 12.43 in 2017.

The state media’s claim that 14.6 million births last year was “still a relatively large number” is less than convincing. A restrictive birth control policy is not the only factor that has militated against an upward curve in the population graph. The slide has even aroused concern among sociologists in the US who have attributed the somewhat alarming trend to “strong structural forces, both economic and social, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.” In a word, China today bears witness to the breakdown of its uniquely signal initiative to curb the population that restricted families to one offspring since the early 1980s.

In 2015, however, China reversed the policy to allow all couples to have two children and policymakers have since hinted that restrictions could be dropped altogether. In point of fact, many families have still chosen not to have more children, citing the high costs of school, housing and medical care. Yet another argument that has been proffered over the years is that the energy and time required to ensure their children can compete in modern Chinese society was too exhausting for parents.

Divorce rates have increased. While this is a societal aberration, actually more women are marrying later or not at all. The one-child policy was introduced by top leader Deng Xiaoping to curb population growth and promote economic development. The result was dramatic ~ fertility rates dropped from 5.9 births per woman in 1970 to about 1.6 in the late 1990s. State restrictions and economic constraints have brewed a complex cocktail. From Deng to Xi Jinping, it is an obversely different challenge that the President-for-life faces today.