BEIJING Nov 15 China will ease family planning
restrictions nationwide, the government said on Friday, allowing
millions of families to have two children in the country's most
significant liberalisation of its strict one-child policy in
about three decades.
Couples in which one parent is an only child will now be
able to have a second child, one of the highlights of a sweeping
raft of reforms announced three days after the ruling Communist
Party ended a meeting that mapped out policy for the next
The plan to ease the policy was envisioned by the government
about five years ago as officials worried that the strict
controls were undermining economic growth and contributing to a
rapidly ageing population the country had no hope of supporting
A growing number of scholars had long urged the government
to reform the policy, introduced in the late 1970s to prevent
population growth spiraling out of control, but now regarded by
many experts as outdated and harmful to the economy.
While the easing of the controls will not have a substantial
demographic impact in the world's most populous nation, it could
pave the way for the abolition of the policy.
"The demographic significance is minimal but the political
significance is substantial," said Wang Feng, a sociology
professor at Fudan University specialising in China's
demographics, before the announcement.
"This is one of the most urgent policy changes that we've
been awaiting for years. What this will mean is a very speedy
abolishment of the one-child policy."
In the 1980s, the government allowed rural families with a
girl to have two children, Wang said. "Ever since the '80s,
there's been nothing as clear as this," he said.
Wang Guangzhou, a demographer from top government
think-tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, estimated
the new policy would affect 30 million women of child-bearing
age In a country which has nearly 1.4 billion people.
Although it is known internationally as the one-child
policy, China's rules governing family planning are more
complicated. Under current rules, urban couples are permitted a
second child if both parents do not have siblings and rural
couples are allowed to have two children if their first-born is
There are numerous other exceptions as well, including
looser rules for ethnic minorities and allowing parents who are
themselves only children to have two children at most.
Any couple violating the policy has to pay a large fine.
The one-child policy covers 63 per cent of the country's
population and Beijing says it has averted 400 million births
Many analysts say the one-child policy has shrunk China's
labour pool, hurting economic growth. For the first time in
decades the working age population fell in 2012, and China could
be the first country in the world to get old before it gets
"It's not a huge reform, there have been small adjustments
all along," said Liang Zhongtang, a demographer from the
Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
"I am just worried that they will make no further
adjustments for a very long time after they've made this one."
Tian Xueyuan, a retired family planning scholar who helped
draft the original one-child policy, told Reuters the rules were
only meant to last about 25 years.
"They could have implemented this policy several years ago,"
Numerous studies have shown the detrimental effects of the
one-child policy. China's labour force, at about 930 million,
will start declining in 2025 at a rate of about 10 million a
year, projections show. Meanwhile, its elderly population will
hit 360 million by 2030, from about 200 million today.
A skewed gender ratio is another consequence.
Like most Asian nations, China has a traditional bias for
sons. Many families abort female fetuses or abandon baby girls
to ensure their only child is a son. About 118 boys are born for
every 100 girls, against a global average of 103-107 boys per
Family planning officials have been known to compel women to
have abortions to meet birth-rate targets.
Still, the adjustment is likely to be popular.
Zhang Yuanyuan, who has a one-year-old son, said she had
already decided to have one more child before the new policy and
was willing to pay the fine.
"We are very, very happy about this new policy," Zhang told