SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Proposals for matchmaking committees within unions and a drive to encourage more graduate students to have babies triggered a frosty reception on social media, as officials brainstormed ways to raise China’s plunging birth rate.
In all, delegates to China’s annual meeting of parliament submitted more than 20 suggestions for ways to produce more children in a country that did not scrap a decades-long policy restricting couples to a single offspring until 2016.
The plan from a Communist Party secretary at a pharmaceutical firm in Hubei province for “marriage committees” within trade unions to provide matchmaking services, was widely criticised on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.
“Marriage is for happiness, not to meet goals,” said one critic.
Also panned was another suggestion that masters and doctoral students should be encouraged to marry and reproduce.
“So I’m studying a masters to birth a baby for you? Why not establish a school (for this), where people can graduate once they’ve given birth to enough,” wrote one user in a post that got about 5,000 likes.
The steep decline in China’s birth rate to last year’s record low, fuelled in part by the high cost of raising children in cities, has been met with growing alarm by officials.
Last year, China announced that couples could have up to three children, in a major shift, but the decision was met with doubts over whether it would make much difference and questions on what supportive measures would be rolled out.
Other proposals submitted to the National People’s Congress, which started on Saturday and finishes on Friday, focused on ways of alleviating pressures facing families and working women.
They included preferential tax policies, waiving kindergarten fees for a third child, and penalties for employers who discriminate against parents with multiple children.
Although proposals submitted by ordinary delegates at the rubber-stamp parliament are largely symbolic, they allow matters of public concern to be discussed and in theory will also be considered by policy-making committees.
Many Weibo users took the opportunity to criticise the historic tactics China had taken to control population growth.
“This is crazy, when it was the time of family planning there was forced sterilisation and abortion,” said one user whose comment received over 2,000 likes. “Now they want three children. Are women just machines?”
(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Albee Zhang in Beijing; Additional reporting by Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Tony Munroe and John Stonestreet)