BEIJING – Greeted by national television coverage of his first bath, a boy born Thursday was declared China's 1.3 billionth citizen in a blaze of publicity to promote the government's controversial "one child" birth limits (search).
The eight-pound infant was presented with a certificate of his status following his birth at 12:02 a.m. at Beijing Maternity Hospital (search). State TV's evening news showed his mother, Lan Hui, a 31-year-old employee of Shell China, receiving a bouquet of flowers and the newborn getting picked a name for the baby, who became the star of a campaign touting what the communist government says are the successes of its decades-old policy limiting most urban couples to one child.
"The family planning policy of the past 30 years has effectively controlled the over-rapid increase of China's population," the official China Daily newspaper said.
The government says that without the policy, China (search) would have at least 200 million more mouths to feed, straining farm, water and other resources. But critics say the plan has led to forced abortions and other abuses.
Foreign experts say China's true population could be hundreds of millions above 1.3 billion because many rural families have unreported children. The one-child limit is also frequently ignored by urban couples who can afford the fines or are desperate for a son to carry on the family name and care for them in old age.
Couples who have unsanctioned children can face heavy fines, the loss of jobs and forced sterilization. But government spokesman deny that women are coerced into having abortions, saying forced abortions aren't sanctioned and officials who carry them out can be punished.
The U.S. government is among those who say forced abortions occur, and it has withheld money from the U.N. Population Fund the past three years because the agency supports the Beijing regime's family planning program.
In Washington last month, State Department officials testified to Congress that China's program is abusive.
They cited the case of Mao Hengfeng, a Shanghai woman serving 11/2 years in a labor camp for her campaign to abolish coerced abortions. Since her second pregnancy in the late 1980s, Mao has been detained in psychiatric wards, forced to have an abortion and removed from her job.
On Wednesday, the New York-based group Human Rights in China said her sentence had been extended by three months.
In an unusual acknowledgment, the China Daily said Thursday, without providing any specifics, that the "family planning policy has gone awry in some places during its 25-year history." However, it said, "the policy should continue to be endorsed."
The government has eased some restrictions in recent years, including allowing couples a second child if both spouses are only children.
In China's business capital, Shanghai, where city leaders worry a low birth rate will cause a shortage of workers, divorced residents who remarry are allowed to have a child with their new spouses even if they already have one from a previous marriage.
China says the birth limits have reduced the number of children per couple from about 5.8 children in the 1970s to 1.8 children now.
That success has brought "a string of demographic challenges," Xinhua said in a separate report Thursday.
Fewer children will result in a smaller pool of young workers to support a large population of retirees, it said. And there is a widening gap between the numbers of boys and girls, leading to fears of social strains as millions of men in coming years are unable to find wives.
Government figures say 119 boys are born in China for every 100 girls, a gap blamed largely on parents aborting female fetuses so they can try again for a boy. Worldwide, fewer than 110 boys are born for every 100 girls. Officials say China could have as many as 40 million men who can't find spouses by 2020 — just as China's 1.3 billionth citizen is coming of age.