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Despite three-child policy, many in China can’t afford more kids | Business and Economy News

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Shenzhen, China – On a sweltering June afternoon in a quiet corner of Lianhuashan Park at the heart of China’s high-tech showcase city of Shenzhen, 25-year-old Mr Ling is engaged in the decidedly low-tech activity of browsing advertisements for potential partners.

Men get light blue cards, women light pink, grouped by decade of birth. The cards hang stiff and impersonal from hundreds of wires in the circular “Matchmaking Corner” structure built by the municipal government, whose offices are a quick walk away.

Like many younger men and women living in Shenzhen without official residency in the city, Ling faces chances of finding a wife, starting a family, and actually staying in the city long-term that are slim – even if he’d prefer to take that course.

“The biggest issue is work and having enough money and getting a house,” he said. “I have a few friends who used to work in Shenzhen but have now moved to other areas. The cost of living puts too much pressure on them.”

Ling’s hukou – China’s internal family registration system – ties most of his health and social insurance, as well as his future children’s education, to a rural village in Shandong province far to the north, the place of his birth.

Ling, who did not want his full name used to protect his privacy, works as a real estate agent. But the job entails little beyond answering phones, escorting potential buyers to properties, with little chance of upward mobility.

As China moves to allow couples to have up to three children, it is increasingly clear that the government will need to address the needs and concerns of people like Ling who would like to start families and have children but are pressured by a lack of education, living costs and barriers to movement such as the hukou system – realities of life in China that are dissuading many working couples from contemplating the idea of having more than one child, let alone two or three.

A lack of education, living costs and barriers to movement such as the hukou system are realities of life in China that are dissuading many working couples from contemplating the idea of having more than one child, let alone two or three [File: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg]

‘How can we take care of nine?’

An online survey circulated in early May in China found that slightly over half of young people don’t want to have one child, let alone a second or third.

One reason is the cost of buying a house. Most men feel they need to have property before proposing marriage, so that is a major premarital barrier for a man and his extended family, which often helps pay for that first house. Others included concerns over who would take care of the children, the high cost of education and after-school programmes, point systems in first and second-tier cities that determine if a child can get into a local school or not, and changing mindsets among younger people who want to pursue individual dreams that don’t revolve around creating a family.

Women – who shoulder the lion’s share of childcare – are also increasingly less willing to have a second child after becoming exhausted from looking after their first.

One remark that circulated on Chinese social media the hours after China announced the move to a three-child policy on the final day of May was of a couple saying: “We already have to take care of a family of eight, how can we take care of nine?”

Translation: Working-age couples in China often have to take care of themselves as well as two sets of parents who don’t have much income from savings or pension plans if any, plus any kids they already have.

Though the parents of such workers often do help with home and childcare, the costs associated with healthcare as they age – along with child-rearing costs – are a huge burden.

China’s fertility rate slowed to 1.3 births per woman in 2020 and looks likely to hover around that rate unless authorities in Beijing ease pressure on working families. While those authorities say efforts to improve policies related to maternity leave and insurance, as well as to strengthen tax and housing policy support, are under way, most working parents in China are not getting their hopes up.

Government benefits that were rolled out after China eased its one-child policy in 2015 failed to reduce financial burdens and increase birth rates significantly [File: Akio Kon/Bloomberg]

Benefits rolled out after the one-child policy was eased in 2015 failed to reduce burdens and increase birth rates significantly.

Chang Qingsong, an associate professor at the Population Research Institute of Xiamen University, believes the government should go further and remove the limits entirely so families can decide whether they want kids or not.

“The Chinese government could loosen the limit on the number of children that a family can have, and provide maximum support to the families who have the ability and conditions to have more babies,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Instead of prescribing how many children they can have, the government needs to reduce the burdens on families to increase their intent to give birth,” he said. “Predictably, even if couples were allowed to have a third child, most couples would not.”

Moving the needle

Failing or stagnant birth rates might not mean all that much at this moment, but as China’s population ages rapidly, economic growth could take a hit as the labour force shrinks 15 years from now, according to a note from Yue Su, principal economist with The Economist Intelligence Unit.

The new three-child policy could also have further negative short-term impacts on women, she wrote, with companies assuming women would want more children and potentially opting to hire men instead in order to dodge maternity costs and time away from work.

Failing or stagnant birth rates might not mean all that much at this moment, but as China’s population ages rapidly, economic growth could take a hit as the labour force shrinks 15 years from now [File: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg]

Ashton Verdery, an associate professor of sociology and demography at Penn State University, said it appears that the three-child policy is more of a reaction to the recent census data showing China has a rapidly aging population and is fast closing in on its peak population, but a detailed policy to try to address the pressures could come later.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they pivot towards some sort of special credits that people get for having more children or other policies that ease the challenges of having more children,” he told Al Jazeera.

For example, Chinese authorities are reportedly encouraging some regions to trial parental leave schemes.

“I could imagine that China may build more housing that is friendly for larger families and things like that,” he said. “The Chinese state has much greater involvement in the economy and therefore might be able to move the needle a bit.”

For Scott Rozelle, a development economist and a co-director of the Rural Education Action Program at Stanford University, China’s demographic problem is not so much about quantity as it is about quality.

Much of that lack of quality in the labour force is because China has failed to provide education for all youth through high school, particularly in rural areas.

Research shows early indications that the birth rate decline is largely coming from rural areas of China primarily because women there do not feel their families could support more than one or two children [File: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg]

Without raising the education levels of rural children and re-educating those rural hukou holders who didn’t make it through high school, simply having more children isn’t going to solve China’s looming labour problems and keep it from finding itself in a middle-income trap like Mexico or Brazil.

“The quality of people really matters in this post-industrial world,” Rozelle said. “If you don’t have a high school education, you’re not going to do well in online sales, you’re not going to be able to start a business.”

Recent research Rozelle has conducted shows early indications that the birth rate decline is largely coming from rural areas of China primarily because women there do not feel their families could support more than one or two children.

“My hypothesis is that the big fall in fertility has basically come from rural China in the past 10 years,” he told Al Jazeera. “Women now have so much more decision-making power over critical decisions like family size.”

China is currently putting into place a major policy for rural revitalisation across the country, but most of it is focused on agriculture and infrastructure programmes, rather than education, health and social welfare.

Rozelle said surveys of rural families over the years find that while they appreciate many of those infrastructure upgrades, for most the priority boils down to one thing: education.

“It’s coming where we aren’t going to need big quantities of labour to run our societies, what we need is high-quality labour,” Rozelle said. “So does rural revitalisation need to include education? Absolutely.”



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Armenia: Nikol Pashinyan claims victory in snap polls | Elections News

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Nikol Pashinyan, the acting prime minister of Armenia, has claimed victory in a snap parliamentary election he had called in an effort to defuse a political crisis following a disastrous war with Azerbaijan.

With 75 percent of results declared, Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party had 55.61 percent of the vote on Monday. The electoral alliance of his top rival, former President Robert Kocharyan, had 20 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Voter turnout was about 50 percent, with some 2.6 million people eligible to vote.

“The people of Armenia have given our Civil Contract party a mandate to lead the country and personally me to lead the country as prime minister,” Pashinyan said early on Monday.

“We already know that we won a convincing victory in the elections and we will have a convincing majority in parliament,” he added.

Kocharyan’s bloc, however, questioned the credibility of the preliminary results and said it would not recognise Pashinyan’s quick claim to victory, which came when just 30 percent of precincts had been counted.

“Hundreds of signals from polling stations testifying to organised and planned falsifications serve as a serious reason for lack of trust,” the bloc said in a statement, adding it would not “recognise” the results until the “violations” were studied.

Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharyan visits a polling station to cast his vote during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 20, 2021 [Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via Reuters]

Earlier on Sunday evening, the general prosecutor’s office said it had received 319 reports of violations. It said it had opened six criminal probes, all of which concerned bribes during campaigning.

The election is being monitored by experts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which recently assessed the voting as largely fair and free. They will deliver an overall verdict on Monday.

Opinion polls prior to the election had put the two parties neck and neck. And while a record four electoral blocs and 21 parties ran for election, only a handful are expected to win seats in parliament.

Six-day war

Pashinyan had called the snap poll to try to end a political crisis that erupted after ethnic Armenian forces lost a six-week war against Azerbaijan last year and ceded territory in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region. More than 6,500 people were killed in the war, according to the latest official figures from Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan has since been under pressure, with regular street protests demanding he step down over the terms of the peace agreement that ended the conflict. Under the deal, which was brokered by Russia, Azerbaijan regained control of territory it had lost during a war in the early 1990s. Pashinyan himself described the agreement as a disaster, but said he had been compelled to sign it in order to prevent greater human and territorial losses.

From Moscow’s perspective, Pashinyan is a guarantor that the agreement will remain in place. This includes the stationing of some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Arsen Kharatyan, a former adviser to Pashinyan, told Al Jazeera the results gave the acting prime minister a chance to form a government “so that the internal political turmoil stops”.

“Now, how are you going to handle the situation that Armenia is in? In the larger picture, the security architecture of the region has not changed much since the war. Russia is still going to be a major player in all of this. So, whoever comes in to power is going to have to deal with Moscow quite directly,” Kharatyan said, adding that Sunday’s vote also showed none of the parties who campaigned on a “pro-Western agenda got enough votes”.

Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, is a close ally of Moscow, although Pashinyan, who came to power on the back of street protests and on an anti-corruption agenda in 2018, has had cooler relations with the Kremlin.

Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in last year’s conflict, will also be watching the election closely.

Conflicting opinions

On the streets of Yerevan on Sunday, Armenians voiced conflicting opinions about Pashinyan.

Voter Anahit Sargsyan said the prime minister, who spearheaded peaceful protests against corrupt elites in 2018, deserved another chance.

She said she feared the return of the old guard whom she accused of plundering the country.

“I voted against a return to the old ways,” said the 63-year-old former teacher.

An Armenian woman casts her ballot paper at a polling station during a snap parliamentary election – called after last year’s defeat in fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh – in Yerevan, Armenia, Sunday, June 20, 2021 [Sergei Grits/AP Photo]

Another voter, Vardan Hovhannisyan, said he had cast his ballot for Kocharyan, who calls Russian leader Vladimir Putin his friend.

“I voted for secure borders, solidarity in society, the return of our war prisoners, the wellbeing of the wounded and a strong army,” said the 41-year-old musician.

Kocharyan, who hails from Karabakh, has accused Armenia’s leadership of inaction during last year’s war and pledged to start negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders if he came to power.

Kocharyan was president of Armenia from 1998 to 2008 and was accused of acting unlawfully when he introduced a state of emergency in March 2008 after a disputed election.

At least 10 people were killed in the clashes that followed between police and protesters.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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New Zealand’s Hubbard selected as first transgender Olympian | LGBTQ News

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Laurel Hubbard, 43, will compete in the super-heavyweight women’s event in Tokyo.

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to test the ideal of fair competition in sport.

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith said 43-year-old Hubbard – who was assigned male at birth but transitioned to female in 2013 – had met all the qualification criteria for transgender athletes.

“We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,” Smith said in a statement.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg category after showing testosterone levels below the threshold required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 43-year-old had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning.

“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard, an intensely private person who rarely speaks to the media, said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of people who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised Hubbard’s selection.

“It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation.

Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes “dope” and feared it could cost the small Pacific nation a medal.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during competition, and thought her career was over.

“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking New Zealanders.

“But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson said Hubbard had worked hard to come back from the potentially career-ending injury.

“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” he said.

Hubbard is currently ranked 16th in the world in the super heavyweight category.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Apple Daily could shut ‘in days’ after Hong Kong asset freeze | Freedom of the Press News

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Company adviser says action under security law means it cannot access some $50 million in funds to pay staff and vendors.

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities used the national security law imposed by China to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editor and four other directors, an adviser to jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.

Mark Simon, speaking by phone from the United States, said the company was no longer able to access its funds and would be holding a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward.

“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month,” Simon told the news agency. “It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”

His comments signal closure is imminent even after Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”

The news comes two days after editor Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail after being charged under the security law with collusion with foreign forces.

Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives back at the detention centre after he was remanded in custody on Saturday [Lam Yik/Reuters]

Three other senior executives were also arrested last Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices in a case that has drawn condemnation from Western nations, human rights groups and the chief United Nations spokesperson for human rights.

The three have been released on bail.

Simon told Reuters it had become impossible to conduct banking operations.

“Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour. We just wanted to find out and it was rejected,” he said.

Speaking earlier to US news channel CNN, Simon said the company had about $50 million available, but was unable to access the funds.

The publisher has come under increasing pressure since its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law last August, which marked the first time the company’s headquarters was raided. Lai, 73, is now jailed and facing trial under the national security law. In May, the authorities also froze some assets belonging to the longtime critic of Beijing has also had some of his assets frozen.

Three companies related to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last June saying it was necessary to restore “stability” to a territory that had been rocked by mass protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

The broadly-worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists among the more than 100 arrested since it was brought into force.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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