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October 30, 2015

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China abolishes one-child policy

China will ease family planning restrictions to allow all couples to have two children after decades of a strict one-child policy, the Communist Party said yesterday.

The policy is a major liberalization of the country’s family planning restrictions, already eased in late 2013 when the government said it would allow more families to have two children as long as couples met certain conditions.

A growing number of scholars had urged the government to reform the rules, introduced in 1979 to prevent population growth spiraling out of control, but now regarded as outdated and responsible for shrinking China’s labor pool.

China’s labor force in 2012 reached a peak of 940 million, and decreased to 930 million in 2014. It is estimated that the labor force will decrease by about 29 million in the decade ending in 2020.

 By about the middle of this century, one in every three Chinese is forecast to be aged over 60, with a dwindling proportion of working adults to support them.

The announcement was made at the close of a key Party meeting focused on financial reforms and maintaining growth between 2016 and 2020 amid concerns over the country’s slowing economy.

China will “fully implement a policy of allowing each couple to have two children as an active response to an aging population,” the Party said in a statement.

Xu Jing, a 38-year-old Shanghai woman with an 8-year-old daughter, said yesterday that she had thought about having a second child but gave up on the idea.

“If I was 35, maybe, but raising a child takes a lot of energy and time,” she said.

“Also, my friend had a second child last year at 37, and she had a lot of complications. That scared me,” Xu said.

On microblogging site Weibo, most people welcomed the move, though some said they probably wouldn’t opt for a second child.

“I can’t even afford to raise one, let alone two,” a person wrote.

Wang Feng, an expert on demographic and social change, called the announcement a “historic event,” but said the challenges of China’s aging society would remain.

Many couples who were allowed to have another child under the 2013 rules decided not to, especially those living in big cities like Shanghai, citing the cost of bringing up children in an increasingly expensive country. Couples who flout family planning laws in China can be fined or lose their jobs. In some cases, mothers are forced to abort their babies or be sterilized.

China, whose population is close to 1.4 billion people, introduced the one-child policy as a temporary measure to curb a surging population and limit the demands for water and other resources. Soon after it was implemented, rural couples were allowed two children if their firstborn was a girl. Ethnic minorities are also allowed more than one child.

Chinese families with a strong preference for boys have sometimes resorted to aborting female fetuses, a practice which has upset the ratio of male to female babies. The imbalance makes it difficult for some men to find wives, and is believed to fuel the trafficking of women as brides.

The Party also yesterday announced plans to attack other structural economic challenges, covering areas such as market pricing, innovation, consumption and more private ownership of assets.

It reiterated its goal to double GDP and incomes between 2010 and 2020 — entailing a “medium-high economic growth target” — and committed to liberalizing its service sector to foreign investment.

It said it will accelerate the implementation of free-trade zones, and intervene less in the pricing of goods and services.

The restated focus on innovation is getting more and more policy support as China tries to push its companies to move more quickly up the value chain.


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