by Xinhua Writer Hou Weili
BEIJING, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- The moment they are picked up from kindergarten each day, Tan Xinyan and her schoolmates scamper into a playground with newly installed swings, climbing frames and slides. Even the piercing December cold and early nightfall in Beijing cannot change their daily routine.
"I'm surprised that such a small change can bring the kids so much joy," said Tan's mother Hu Yufeng, referring to the new facilities in her residential community.
The appearance in old neighborhoods of well-equipped children's playgrounds reflects steps China is taking to create more favorable conditions for child-rearing.
The world's most populous country is bracing for the prospect of low fertility rates, which many countries, particularly the advanced economies, are experiencing. The latest census showed that the country's total fertility rate was at a low level of 1.3 in 2020.
In 2015, China began to allow all couples to have a second child. In 2021, this was expanded to allowing a third child for each family. It was followed by a slew of supportive measures. The country's population and family planning law was also amended to foster a more birth-friendly society.
"Policy design and law-making at the top aim to address public concerns over the heavy burdens of bearing, raising and educating children," said Zhang Guilong, a senior official with the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the nation's top legislature.
At local levels, support on the way includes extended paternity leave, extra parental leave and enhanced public services in terms of tax cuts, housing, employment and education, among other areas.
Having grown up as the only child in her family, the 35-year-old mother always envied those who had siblings to play with and offer support. However, she initially hesitated to have a second child, given that her parents and parents-in-law are already in their late 60s, and she and her husband both have busy careers.
"We would be irresponsible parents if we could not offer the children the attention and care they need for a happy and healthy childhood," Hu said.
As it turns out, her worries about the extra burden of raising two children were unnecessary.
"What doubled is not the workload, but the joy and good memories they created," Hu said.
With supportive policies being implemented, more mothers-to-be aiming for two or three children are expected to feel the same way.
In Beijing, women enjoy 30 days of extra maternity leave, and both parents will have five days of parental leave every year before their child turns three.
In northeast China's Liaoning, the paid parental leave for mothers and fathers will amount to 10 days, and new dads will enjoy 20 days of paternity leave. More regions are following suit.
"It is really good news for families like us, where both parents have full-time jobs," said Luo Hua, a 38-year-old mother from Yingkou in Liaoning, who is welcoming her third child.
The country is also on the move to develop childcare services and improve the affordability and availability of preschool education.
Government funding for public childcare services and support to the private sector in developing the services will increase during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025). As for preschool education, the authorities will increase the gross enrolment ratio in kindergartens to more than 90 percent by 2025.
The extensive network of health workers at the primary level, particularly in rural areas, has been used to spread prenatal and postnatal knowledge among young couples and offer guidance on child-raising and parenting.
On future incentives for couples having children, experts at the Guangdong Academy of Population Development have suggested moves to ensure fair access to education, as well as increasing the supply of quality education resources and offering tax cuts and subsidies to families with more than one child.
"The core of optimizing family planning policy is unleashing child-giving potential at the individual household level," said Song Jian, deputy head of the population development studies center at Renmin University of China. "It requires concerted efforts across society and better social services to alleviate the burden of families in having and raising children."
For Hu Yufeng, the creation of a birth-friendly society requires more changes like new swings and slides. As her daughter Tan is to attend elementary school next September, Hu is expecting birth-friendly policies extending further to her daughter's entire journey to adulthood.
"Ultimately, children are the creators of our future, and it's the job of us grown-ups to create an enabling environment for this." Enditem