With China relaxing its one-child policy 2016 witnessed the highest number of births in 17 years and a further increase in the number of newborns is expected this year, according to the country's health authority.
Mainland hospitals registered 18.46 million births in 2016 – 11.5 per cent more than 2015 – which was the record total since 2000, according to Yang Wenzhuang, a division director at the National Health and Family Planning Commission who briefed reporters on Sunday.
China's National Statistics Bureau had earlier reported that 17.86 million babies were born in 2016 on the basis of a 1/1,000 sample survey. According to commentators, both ways of calculating births were considered legitimate.
However, the numbers were still below previous estimates. China's family planning agency had estimated that a two babies norm could push annual new births up to 20 million.
The health authority is convinced that the increase in addition to the number of couples having a second child – should be attributed to the scrapping of the notorious one-child policy.
Since the early 1980s mainland families had been banned by authorities from having more than one child.
However, in 2013, after president Xi Jinping assumed power, Beijing announced that couples would be allowed to have two children as long as one parent was an only child.
The move came in the backdrop of an ageing society and a shrinking workforce.
The number of births in China rose nearly 8 per cent in the year after the government loosened its unpopular one-child policy.
China enacted its one-child policy in 1979 to rein in population growth. The policy was enforced with fines and in some cases state-mandated abortions.
China had gradually relaxed the policy, such as allowing rural couples to have a second child if their first was a girl, and in 2016 allowed all married couples to have two children.
China's National Health and Family Planning Commission acknowledged that families remained reluctant to have a second child for financial reasons.