China ends one-child policy; ...couples can now have 2 children

China’s Communist Party brought to an end the decades-old “one child” policy on Thursday, when leaders announced that all married couples would be allowed to have two children in a bid to reverse the rapid aging of the labor force.

The announcement came after the party’s Central Committee concluded a four-day meeting in a heavily guarded hotel in western Beijing where the committee approved proposals for China’s next five-year development plan, which starts next year.

“Improve the demographic development strategy,” said the official communiqué, or summary, of the meeting issued through the Xinhua news agency. “Comprehensively implement a policy that couples can have two children, actively taking steps to counter the aging of the population.”

The decision to replace the one-child policy with a “two child” one was among the few substantial changes announced by the party meeting. A fuller summary of the five-year development plan is likely to be released in several days, and the full document will be issued only next year.

The government has already eased some restrictions in the one-child policy, and a party conference in 2013 approved allowing couples to have two children when one of the spouses was an only child. But many eligible couples failed to take up the chance to have a second child, citing the expense and pressures of raising children in a highly competitive society.

China’s population reached 1.37 billion by the end of last year, and one-tenth were aged 65 or older, a proportion that will rise quickly in coming decades if population growth tails off.

The one-child policy took shape in the late 1970s, when Deng Xiaoping and other leaders concluded that China’s growing population threatened to stifle economic growth. The restrictions went into effect in cities, but in the countryside, many families continued having two or more children. The government has also excused ethnic minorities from complying.

As the years went on, harsh official campaigns to fine and punish couples who violated the rules, and sometimes to force women to have abortions, became a source of public discontent.

Thursday’s communiqué also said the government will focus on achieving cleaner and more equitable growth by spreading social security provisions to more people, strengthening environmental protection, eradicating poverty and improving access to education and other public services.

“We must firmly establish and implement a concept of development that is innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared,” the summary said. “This is a profound transformation that concerns the whole of our national development.”

Credit: New York Times