11 July 2024

Several regions in China have extended maternity leave by at least 30 days, in the latest attempt to encourage child-rearing as the country faces a demographic crisis fuelled by a record-low birth rate.

The changes follow the relaxation of strict family planning rules this year to allow families to have a third child — as officials grapple with a rapidly ageing workforce and slowing economy.

On Friday, Beijing’s city government announced that women can now take 158 days of maternity leave, a bump up of 30 days.

Shanghai authorities announced similar changes beginning a day earlier.

In the eastern Zhejiang province, mothers of a second or third child can now take a total of 188 days, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Under current national regulations, mothers are entitled to 98 days of paid maternity leave.

The issue attracted widespread discussion online Friday, with some people expressing concern it could make companies think twice about hiring women.

“The unemployment rate of women is going to be even higher,” one internet user said.

Others questioned why the paternity leave entitlement remained unchanged at 15 days in Beijing.

In the capital, new fathers can extend their paternity leave only by taking days from their partner’s quota.

Similarly, paternity leave in Zhejiang remains at 15 days and the period for fathers in Shanghai is 10 days.

“Enterprises will just favour men over women,” another user commented.

China relaxed its “one-child policy”, one of the world’s strictest family planning regulations, in 2016, allowing couples to have two children.

That was extended to three children earlier this year but the changes have so far failed to result in a baby boom as the cost of living rises.

Last year, China recorded 8.52 births per 1,000 people, the lowest figure since yearly data began in 1978.