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China in world population control, poverty reduction

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UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 24-- China, the world's most populous country, has implemented its family planning policy for more than 30 years, thus helping lower the growth rate of the world population, a senior UN official has said.

In a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua, Hania Zlotnik, director of the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said: "We know that China, being the most populous country, in the world is especially important in the area of population because whatever happens in China has a great impact on the population of the world, and certainly of the population in the developing world."

Zlotnik, a Mexican citizen, was appointed director of the Population Division, DESA, in February 2005 after working in the Division for 23 years. She is the 10th person to serve as the Division director and the first woman to hold this position.

LOW FERTILITY

"Where China won in a way is that they have a nice slogan: 'One Child Per Family,'" Zlotnik said. "Many countries have had slogans like, 'Two Children Per Family,'" she noted.

"Thanks to the changes in fertility, especially in China, the growth rate of the world population (and) of the developing country population is a quarter of a point lower today than it would have been if China did not have such a big drop in family size," she said.

China's family planning policy, under which most couples have one child in urban areas and two in rural areas, has been in effect for more than three decades. It has helped prevent an estimated 400 million births. That means if China had not implemented its family planning policy, its total population would have exceeded 1.7 billion in 2008.

"So it's a much more complex policy than the slogan of one child per woman. Therefore, China doesn't have, at this moment, one of the lowest fertility in the world," she said. "It has a moderately low fertility. It is being lowered and that is an achievement."

"We estimate that it's around 1.7, 1.8 children per women and we are not expecting, at least in the Population Division, that it will change much over the midterm future," she said. "We expect it to remain at around that level partly because both of the effects of the policy and the effects of socioeconomic change and political change are likely to maintain a wish among most families to have relatively few children."

"We are seeing the same pattern happen in many other countries with very different polices, to go to low levels of fertility and many of them, especially in the developing world, piercing the barrier of the two children per family," Zlotnik said.

POVERTY REDUCTION

What "we have been seeing in China, when the families become smaller, is that parents have a vested interest in educating their children," she said. "So China is on the forefront of achieving those Millennium Development Goals, which is universal primary education. I also think that they made quite a bit of progress in educating their population at the higher levels than primary."

"The other thing where China is really an example for the whole world is in the reduction of poverty," she said. "To do that it goes beyond just the population question because the big reduction of poverty China had achieved had a lot to do with its model of development and the opening of its markets to the world and the higher production that it was achieving."

"But we have seen that irrespective of the slogan, populations as they develop are tending to adopt models of very low fertility because it becomes, especially when countries have big populations, more difficult to ensure that the next generation is going to have very good prospects if they have many children," she said.

FINANCIAL CRISIS

"Unfortunately, what we have been seeing since the financial and economic crisis started in late 2008 and 2009 is that part of these gains that China and other countries have made are being eroded, but it's particularly notable in China," Zlotnik said.

The number of people in poverty has again begun to increase when it had been declining, she said. "So that proves, unfortunately, that it's not just a question of population; it's a question of how the economy is doing and in this globalized world, no country, especially the most populous country of the world, cannot be closed to the world and avoid all these things."

"Nevertheless, we are also hearing that China is one of the countries doing the best given the financial crisis and there's a lot of hope that this is a minor problem, short-term in nature; that you'll get out of it and keep on doing well in terms of the economy," she said.

FAMILIES OF CHINESE ORIGIN

"For the Chinese populations, we can see the families of Chinese origin all over the world, in different context, they have all tended to move to very low fertility, and many times much lower than" in the Chinese mainland, she said.

"To give you a small example and size doesn't compare so perfectly, but Hong Kong today has less than one child per woman in terms of fertility that is applicable today, and they never had a child per family," she said. "There are other Chinese populations in Malaysia, in Singapore and in Indonesia that also tend to have relatively low fertility, and lower than what the Chinese population has in general."

"There seems to be a cultural tendency among the Chinese to realize that the well-being of future generations demands more investments in these generations and therefore fewer children are better," she said. "It's not exclusive to the Chinese. We have good examples on other continents. Brazil, for example, we think also has a low fertility. The example of Iran is very special because just in 20 years they were able to reduce their fertility from six to less than two."

"So it is a pattern we see reproducing itself in other countries. It started in the European countries but it continues in many developing countries," Zlotnik said. "It seems to be that as countries have a better standard of living, families realize that smaller families can do better."

CHINA-UN COOPERATION

On the cooperation between China and the United Nations in the field of population, Zlotnik said, "I think that has been a long and fruitful one."

"We work for the Population Division," she said. "It's the think tank that tells you what the growth rate of a population is and how many children women have, we do analysis."

The Population Division is responsible for monitoring and appraisal of the broad range of areas in the field of population.

"I know that the authorities in China are concerned that as the urbanization expands and as the population has more needs it is essential to maintain the quality of the family planning and reproductive health services," she said.

Zlotnik has edited or written numerous reports published by the United Nations, including studies of international migration and development, trends in international migration, female migration, population distribution and migration, population estimates and projections, population aging, and levels and trends of urbanization. She has published over 35 articles in books or journals and has collaborated in editing books or reports on varied subjects.

She has also been an active member of several professional associations, serving as a Board member for the Population Association of America from 2001 to 2003 and as vice-president of the International Union for the Study of Population (IUSSP) from 2001 to 2005.