WASHINGTON -- An increase in world birth rates can be tied to China's relaxation of its stringent 'one couple, one child' population policy, the private, non-profit Population Reference Bureau reports.
Demographers released a report Monday saying the world birth rate jumped in the past year from 27 births per 1,000 people to 28 per 1,000. In China, which the bureau said was the prime cause of the increase, the numbers rose from 18 births per 1,000 people to 21 per 1,000.
China, with more than 1 billion people, is the world's most populous nation and contain's more than one-fifth of the Earth's 5 billion people.
Critics, mostly members of the American anti-abortion movement, claim China's family planning effort includes forced abortions and have succeeded in ending the United States' $25 million contribution to the U.N. Fund for Population Activities.
Population control supporters deny the charges.
Wener Fornos, president of the Population Institute, said in a recent speech that the State Department's annual human rights report to Congress noted, 'Chinese family planning officials have reiterated that the Chinese government does not condone forced abortions or sterilizations, but admit that coercion, even though counter to official policy, does occur in some instances.'
Fornos noted that 'no where in the report does it indicate even a thin shred of evidence' to support the contention that coerced abortion is official policy.
The PRB demographers noted China's relaxation of its birth control programs coincides with the arrival of childbearing age for the post-Great Leap Forward baby-boom generation of the 1960s.
'If Beijing continues to ease up its population policy, it will shatter current assumptions about a continuing slowdown in the global population's growth rate,' said demographer Carl Haub.
Haub said in an interview a number of factors could be at work in China.
'China does not like all the bad press it has been getting plus the fact that it is still a rural country,' where families believe they need a lot of children, he said.
But he added the policy could be toughened again 'as the numbers start to come in.'
China spends an estimated $1 billion a year on its family planning efforts.
At the opposite end of the demographic scale from China is Europe, which had an annual natural population increase -- the difference between births and deaths -- of 0.3 percent, the report said.
In Denmark, West Germany and Hungary, the annual rate dropped, the report said.
The United States, with a natural increase of 0.7 percent, is expected to follow the European pattern. The report predicted the U.S. population would grow from its present 248.3 million people to 268 million in 2000 and to 296.6 million by 2020.
World population, now just over 5 billion, is expected to double to 10 billion between now and 2060, the report said. But in Africa, for example, where the population is growing at 2.8 percent annually, population is expected to double in 25 years, reaching about 1.2 billion people.