An original version of this article appeared in Hong Kong Free Press on July 10, 2015:
Hong Kong’s Family Planning Association released a new television advertisement on Thursday that told families in the city to have as many children as they wish.
The advertisement, which is aired on television stations across the city, said that families should “plan ahead” on the desired number of children, adding that “the choice is yours.”
The commercial even included the message: “You can even form a basketball team” – hinting that five is a decent number.
In a statement, the association said “40 per cent of women had not attained their ideal family size.” It quoted statistics suggesting married women had on average said 1.67 children was the ideal number, but in reality couples were only having an average of 1.24 babies.
It blamed the discrepancy on delays to marriage and childbearing and urged couples to plan ahead “to avoid disappointment from missed fertility opportunities.”
The message, which said parents should freely decide upon the number of children, was in sharp contrast with the 1970s. Back then, the association urged families to follow birth control by conveying the message that “two children were already enough.”
Hong Kong’s birth rates have decreased over the past few decades, while the city is seeing an increasingly ageing population.
According to the Department of Health, the crude birth rate, which indicates the number of births per 1,000 people in a year, has dropped significantly from 34.3 in 1961 to 7.1 in 2003. The number rose steadily from 2004 until 2011, before dropping back to 8.0 in 2013.
In 2013, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced the government would adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong. Public hospitals will no longer accept reservations for antenatal service if both parents are not Hong Kong residents.
The government has introduced several policies to encourage childbirth and reduce the negative consequences of an ageing population.
Child allowances was increased from HK$70,000 to HK$100,000 this year to lessen the burden on parents. In February the government also enacted a statute that allowed fathers to take three days paternity leave.
Across the border, China is still enacting a mandatory birth control policy. The law was implemented in 1980, when most Chinese couples were only allowed to give birth to a single child. Nevertheless, a sharply declining birth rate and rapidly ageing population prompted officials to loosen the strict policy terms. Couples are now permitted to give birth to a second child if either parent is an only child.