SHANGHAI nurse Lu Ming wants a second baby but it is not China’s one-child policy that is holding her back. If anything, she is being encouraged to increase the size of her family as the city faces the challenge of providing for its ageing population. Last week it reminded couples such as Lu and her husband - both of whom are only children because of the policy - that they are eligible to have a second child. Comments by Shanghai family planning director Xie Lingli published on the front page of the government-run China Daily were initially seen as a signal that the one-child policy was about to be relaxed after 30 years.

However, days later a report by China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted Xie as saying she was simply stating rules that had been in place for years and that Shanghai never pursued measures that parted from national policies. Yet for young university-educated mothers such as Lu, who said she was aware of the policy exceptions for having a second child, government officials’ words alone mean little in the face of the rising costs of raising a bigger family. “I had one child and now I want to have a second one,” the 31-year-old said. “But not every family can afford to have a second child,” she added. “To raise a second child you have to take all the financial costs into consideration, otherwise it’s not responsible.” Nevertheless, analysts say recent media attention reflects a struggle between demographers alarmed by a shrinking workforce and ageing population and officials clinging to the mindset that China has too many people. “The fact this caused such a media storm shows the wind is blowing the other way and it’s about time,” said Wang Feng, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine.

“It’s a monumental decision that China has to face: what to do about a policy that came out as an emergency measure and was supposed to last for only a generation,” Wang said. Regardless of whether China decides to phase out the one-child policy, population decline is inevitable after more than 15 years of fertility rates below the replacement level of 2.1, Wang said. The government has yet to understand that young career-minded women and rising living costs signal demographic trends similar to those in Western Europe, and birth rates will fall even further, Wang said. “China needs to realise there is a demographic crisis quickly in order to prevent it from deepening,” he said. Even though the rules for having a second child are not new, by publicly encouraging people to take advantage of them Shanghai officials may be trying to counter propaganda tilted towards encouraging only one child, he said.

“Having a second child is often portrayed as if it’s a sign of backwardness and not contributing to the country’s goal of controlling population growth,” Wang said. A senior Shanghai district family planning official insisted that encouraging eligible couples to have a second child had been going on for nearly five years since new exceptions to the one-child policy were introduced. Couples are asked a series of questions when they register to marry to determine if they can have more than one child, the official said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. She provided a bright booklet distributed in Shanghai since 2005 which spells out who is eligible to have a second baby, with children’s book-style illustrations showing a young father with two children hanging off his arms.

Conditions include one of the couple being disabled, one working on a fishing boat at sea for five years, and one being an only child from a rural household. Urban couples who do not meet the criteria but have a second child nonetheless, are fined the equivalent of three times the per capita income in their city, the booklet said. The fine for a Shanghai couple, based on 2008 figures, would be about 80,000 yuan (11,800 dollars) - a price wealthy families are often willing to pay. But in a Shanghai park bouncing her six-month-old grandson on her knee, 51-year-old Huang Yuanxiang said that, for most of the younger generation, the biggest barrier to having more than one child is economic. For her grandson to prosper, he will have to go to good schools that cost money. “In my generation, none of us was rich and things were not expensive so it cost little to have more than one child,” she said. “We didn’t face the same financial burden as they do.” afp

Actress Evan Rachel Wood left little to imagination as she stripped for a steamy photo shoot for a U.S magazine.

She put on a black nail varnish and a pout as she posed on her hands and knees for the August issue of i-D Magazine.

Controversial photographer Terry Richardson, known for his sexually explicit works took the pictures, one of which shows her wearing lacy black underwear and thigh-high socks.

A particular snap has the ex-Marilyn Manson's girlfriend tied to a chair but she said that she was comfortable working with Terry.

"You know what you're going to get with Terry. But he makes you feel so comfortable. He was like, "OK, take off all your clothes," and I was like, "OK," the Daily Star quoted her as saying.

She added: "Then he tied me to a chair and pushed me over. I was like, "You know, I've only done this for three people - Manson, (Across The Universe director) Julie Taymor, and you, so feel special!"

As the International Cricket Council celebrates 100 years this year, the game's administrators have decided to go intellectual with a couple of lectures planned at the world's oldest university in the English speaking world. A choice selection of the game's greats has been invited to speak about various facets of the game, and among them is the true Royalty of Kolkata.

Sourav Ganguly spoke at the centennial celebrations of the ICC. But it was not all jovial, especially when an Englishman was harsh on the riches of the IPL.

"Money is good, but it hasn't done any good to the attitude. Lot more people in the game are calculating and managing their way to maximize the opportunity," said Angus Fraser, the cricket correspondent of The Independent.

But never one to back away, Dada was quick to counter.

"Players still want to play for their country. All established players only have IPL contracts. If you play in the IPL and not play international cricket, like Freddie is doing, you won't survive. You have to be a good international player to get your contracts ever year," said Ganguly.

Well, it would make sense for the former Indian skipper to guard the territory given how quickly he's made the transition from player to a commentator to an administrator. But he's already smartened up to the old BCCI game of not revealing too much too soon.

"It should be a balance of both. Administrative skills are required and both need each other. You need a mixture of both, you need everything from players, taking it baby steps at a time," added the southpaw who has played 113 Tests and 311 ODIs for India.

There is no doubt that Sourav Ganguly was the star attraction at this conference organised by the ICC on 100 years of cricket in Oxford University. But Sourav was quite the careful diplomat in what was an otherwise no holds barred, frank discussion, which perhaps is not surprising now that Sourav has openly stated his ambitions of a future in cricket administration.

Farmers in the drought-stricken Bihar have asked their unmarried daughters to embarrass the weather God into bringing the badly-needed monsoon rains by plowing the fields in the buff.

According to witnesses, with a little help from elderly female relatives, the nude girls plowed the fields and after sunset, chanted ancient hymns to invoke the God, reports the ‘China Daily’.

"They (villagers) believe their acts would get the weather God badly embarrassed, who in turn would ensure bumper crops by sending rains," Upendra Kumar, a village council official, said from Bihar''s remote Banke Bazaar town.

"This is the most trusted social custom in the area and the villagers have vowed to continue this practice until it rains very heavily," he added

An opposition and women's rights activists' uproar over the alleged stripping and assault of a woman by a group of men here has prompted Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to order an inquiry into the incident.

According to official sources, Nitish ordered state police chief DN Gautam to undertake the probe on Thursday night although the police headquarters had already asked Inspector General (Patna zone) Sunil Kumar to look into the incident.

On Thursday evening, a group of men had allegedly abused, assaulted and then stripped a young woman in full public view at a busy road here.

A police team was reportedly present at the site and watched the attack on the woman for nearly an hour before taking the culprits to the police station.

Assistant Sub-inspector Shiv Nath Singh, who was in charge of patrolling the area, has been suspended for not helping the woman in time, police said.

The woman, a resident of Jesidih in Jharkhand, was lured by Rakesh Kumar to Patna with a promise of job.

Soon after she came here, Rakesh forced her to have sex with his friends. She ran away from the hotel where she had been staying with him for the last few days. However, Rakesh and his friends caught up with her and attacked her.

Police have arrested Rakesh, who is said to be involved in the flesh trade.

"Police have lodged a case against Rakesh and others on the basis of the statement of the woman," an official said.

The state women's commission has asked Patna Senior Superintendent of Police to submit a report on the incident.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad condemned the incident and said that it shows that no government existed in the state.

A baby attacked by rats bled to death in her Louisiana crib while an Ohio infant lost two toes to the vicious rodents in a pair of bizarre attacks.

Three people were charged with child endangerment after authorities determined that the six-week-old Ohio baby had been bitten repeatedly by rodents "over a lengthy period of time," the Pike County sheriff department said.

But charges have not yet been filed in the case of the Louisiana child who bled to death last week from hundreds of rat bites, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

The girl's father was found screaming outside his home when paramedics arrived and her parents told police they did not hear the three-month-old cry out when she was attacked during her nap time.

Neighbours told the Picayune that the children always appeared well-cared for and that the father had recently set out traps for the rats that plagued the area. A funeral was held on Friday.