China is to relax its one-child policy, state media said on Friday, in a major policy shift announced days after the conclusion of a meeting of top Communist Party leaders.
The change to the family planning law will let couples have two children if one of them is an only child, state news agency Xinhua said, citing a “key decision” made by leaders at this week’s gathering, known as the Third Plenum.
The policy was brought in during the late 1970s to control China’s huge population, the world’s largest, but has at times been brutally enforced.
The law currently restricts most couples to one child, with one of the exceptions allowing a second if both parents are only children.
“The birth policy will be adjusted and improved step by step to promote ‘long-term balanced development of the population in China’,” Xinhua reported, citing the decision of top officials this week in Beijing.
Despite calls for relaxation of the family-planning law and rumours that it might be reformed, Chinese officials have repeatedly argued that the policy is still needed, claiming over-population threatens the country’s development.
At the same time census officials warned earlier this year that China’s working-age population had begun to shrink after three decades of astounding economic growth.
China will also abolish the “re-education through labour” system, where police can sentence offenders to years in camps without a trial, Xinhua said.
The deeply unpopular labour camp system is largely used for petty offenders but is also blamed for widespread rights abuses by corrupt officials seeking to punish whistleblowers and those who try to complain about them to higher authorities.
Under the scheme, people can be sent for up to four years’ re-education by a police panel, without a court appearance.
Pressure for change in the system has been building for years.