- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BEIJING | China will maintain the strict family planning policy it imposed a generation ago to keep the birthrate low and the economy growing, President Hu Jintao said in remarks before new census data are released.

His comments mirror other officials’ statements in recent months but confirm no major reforms are pending on the so-called “one-child policy” introduced in 1980 as a temporary measure to curb surging population growth.

China has the world’s largest population and credits its family planning limits with preventing 400 million additional births and helping break a traditional preference for large families that had perpetuated poverty.

But serious concerns have been raised about the policy’s problematic side effects, such as too few girls and a rapidly aging population.

Data on the first census in 10 years are due to be released publicly Thursday. Preliminary numbers based on a sample survey showed China had 1.34 billion people last year and growth had slowed to its lowest rate in decades.

A Xinhua News Agency report Wednesday said Mr. Hu told other top Communist Party leaders on Tuesday that the policy - which limits most urban couples to one child and rural families to two - should be maintained.

Xinhua also reported that improvements in the policy were planned, but no birthrate target or other specific details were given.

Speculation has been growing among Chinese media, analysts and ordinary people about whether the government would relax the policy and allow more people to have two children.

Advocates of loosening the family planning regulations had hoped 2011 might offer a unique window of opportunity because it marks the beginning of a five-year plan, when all arms of the government revamp their policy road maps.

The family planning policy has curbed China’s population growth but brought new problems, such as an expanding elderly population that demographers say will be increasingly hard to support as the young labor force shrinks.

Xinhua said Mr. Hu briefly touched on these concerns. He said social security and services for the elderly should be improved and called on officials to formulate strategies to cope with the aging population.

The policy also is blamed for the country’s skewed sex ratio. Chinese families with a strong preference for boys sometimes resort to aborting female fetuses.

Demographers worry that the imbalance will make it hard for men to find wives and could fuel the trafficking of women and children as brides.

The male-to-female ratio at birth in China is about 119 males to 100 females, with the gap as high as 130 males for every 100 females in some provinces. In industrialized countries, the ratio is 107-to-100.

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