China should immediately end its one-child policy and instead adopt a two-child scheme, a foundation with close links to the highest levels of the Communist party has said.
The report from the China Development Research Foundation set a three-year deadline to phase in the reform.
The authors of the report are perhaps the most significant voices yet in the growing chorus for China to rethink its one-child policy.
“We have been discussing the one-child policy since 2000,” said Li Jiamin, a specialist in population studies at Nankai university, and one of the co-authors of the study. “It is just a matter of finding the right solution. Making the jump to two children is only a matter of time now.”
He added: “If China sticks to the one-child policy, we are looking at a situation as bad as the one in southern Europe. Old people will make up a third of the population by 2050.”
Another co-author, Cui Fang, is an economist who heads the Population and Development department of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Mr Cui has lectured several members of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee.
Prof Cui said he was unable to comment because the report had leaked out ahead of the 18th Communist Party Congress, the highly sensitive moment when China will unveil a new set of leaders for the first time in a decade.
He said discussion of family planning at such a time is frowned upon, and that the report was supposed to emerge in ten days time.
However, in March, he argued that the government should keep the promise it made to the public three decades ago, when it introduced the one-child policy.
“They said if the circumstances changed, so would the policy. We should stay consistent to that and realise this promise,” he said.
“In the past, family planning was important for our national development, but now the country has changed and the decision about how many children to have should be given back to families,” he added.
The sacrifices made by Chinese families under the one-child policy have had an enormous impact, not only on China’s resources but on the world. The Chinese population has been reduced by between 100 million and 400 million, according to various estimates.
However, the new study argues that bringing the policy to an end will not unleash a huge population boom.
It pointed to four experimental areas in northern and central China which had their family planning controls lifted in 1985.
“All these areas had low population growth, and the birth rate has been shrinking since 2000. But the gender balance in these areas is better, and so is the age distribution. These areas also have less conflict between the government and the people.”
The report admitted, however, that some other experimental areas had seen births spiral “out of control” and had family planning policies reapplied.
Prof Li also said many families who have the right to have a second child under the current policies are choosing not to, perhaps because of the expense. “The effect of making a change will not be significant. This is not a bold policy [that we are suggesting],” he said.
However, he added that the report had not yet generated any feedback from the National Family Planning Commission in Beijing. “They basically feel that it will take more time to change the policy,” said Prof Li.