BEIJING -- A baby boy delivered in a Beijing maternity ward early yesterday became China's 1.3 billionth citizen, the government said, using the occasion to tout its contentious one-child policy.
China imposed a policy of allowing one child per family about 30 years ago, following a post- World War II baby boom. Couples who have unsanctioned children have been subject to heavy fines, job losses, and forced sterilization.
The policy has kept the United States from giving money to the UN Population Fund for fear that the money will go toward supporting coercive abortions in China.
China would have reached 1.3 billion citizens four years earlier if it weren't for its family planning policy, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
The boy was born at Beijing Maternity Hospital at 12:02 a.m. to a father who works for Air China and a mother employed by Shell China, Xinhua said.
"I am the happiest guy in the world and my boy will be blessed all his life," the father, Zhang Tong, was quoted by Xinhua. The child's name was not reported.
China credits its one-child policy with enabling the country's stable economic growth.
Last month, US State Department officials told Congress that China's birth-planning laws and policies were harshly coercive.
They cited the case of Mao Hengfeng, a Shanghai woman serving 1½ years in a labor camp for her campaign to abolish family planning policies.
Since her second pregnancy in the late 1980s, Mao has been assigned to psychiatric wards, coerced into an abortion, and removed from her job.
The New York-based activist group Human Rights in China said Wednesday that Mao's sentence had been extended another three months by Shanghai authorities.
China says the policy has meant that couples -- who had an average of 5.8 children in the 1970s -- now average 1.8 children.
But commentators also say that the sharp drop in the birth rate will lead to problems as a smaller pool of young workers is left to support a large population of retirees. It has also led to a gender imbalance. Government figures show that 119 boys are born in China for every 100 girls, a gap blamed largely on the one-child limitation. In a society that values sons, many parents abort female fetuses, hoping to try again for a boy.
Worldwide, fewer than 110 boys are born to every 100 girls.
If current trends continue, officials say that by 2020, China could have as many as 40 million men who will not be able to find spouses.