China to ease decades-old one-child policy nationwide

Fri Nov 15, 2013 9:20am EST
 
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By Sui-Lee Wee and Li Hui

BEIJING (Reuters) - 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 liberalization 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 decade.

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 financially.

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introduced in the late 1970s to prevent population growth spiraling out of control, but now regarded by many experts as outdated and harmful to the economy.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 specializing 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.   Continued...

 
A mother pushes her daughter on a swing in Beijing April 3, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee