China's population outpaces targets despite birth-control efforts, census shows

October 31, 1990|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Preliminary results from China's census last summer show that, after more than a decade of stringent family-planning controls, the world's largest nation still is not meeting its own goals for limiting the growth of its massive population.

China now has more than 1.13 billion people, according to the State Statistical Bureau's initial report on the country's fourth census, which was taken in early July.

The report, released by the state news agency yesterday, affirms that China is like ly to exceed by at least 100 million people its long-stated goal of having no more than 1.2 billion people by 2000.

Though China's population growth rate has slowed dramatically since the 1970s, the population still is growing by 16.67 million people a year -- adding tremendous strain to an economy, resource base and physical environment already overburdened by one-fifth of the world's people.

"China has done a phenomenal job in trying to control its population, but it faces staggering odds," said Stirling D. Scruggs, country director of the United Nations Population Fund here.

U.N. demographers now predict that China's population will reach 1.5 billion in 2025 and will continue to expand for at least several more decades before leveling off.

"What the Chinese have to provide by way of food, housing, education, health care and social services in order to just keep pace with the population growth is going to require an astronomical effort," Mr. Scruggs said.

The initial report on the census did not break down China's population by age group, but Mr. Scruggs particularly noted that a marked achievement in extending the average life span during the past four decades means that the nation also will face a crisis in caring for a dramatically increased number of elderly over the next 20 years.

An editorial in today's People's Daily, China's leading newspaper, hailed the census results as showing that China "has achieved fruitful results in controlling population growth and in raising the population's living standard."

But even that glowing editorial admitted that the country's extensive family-planning programs have been "ineffective" in many areas.

Since 1979, China has pursued a policy of limiting most families to only one child, at times through coercive means but mainly through a system of economic incentives. While this produced initial gains in controlling population growth, the birthrate began to rise again in the late 1980s.

That rise has been attributed to lax enforcement of the one-child rule, particularly in rural areas where it generally has not been accepted, and to an echo effect from China's last population boom, which roughly paralleled the decade of the Cultural Revolution that began in the mid-1960s.

More than 360 million children born during that period are now coming of marriage and childbearing age.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.