China decides to abolish 1-child policy, allow 2 children

China Abandons One-Child Policy

BEIJING (AP) -- China's ruling Communist Party announced Thursday that the country will start allowing all couples to have two children, abolishing an unpopular policy that limited many urban couples to only one child for more than three decades.

The decision is the most significant easing of family planning policies that were long considered some of the party's most onerous intrusions into family life. The restrictions led to an imbalanced sex ratio because of a traditional preference for boys, and draconian enforcement that sometimes included forced abortions.

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A communique from the party's Central Committee carried on the official Xinhua News Agency said that the decision to allow all couples to have two children was "to improve the balanced development of population" and to deal with an aging population.

The move may not spur a huge baby boom in part because fertility rates are believed to be declining even without the policy's enforcement. Previous easings of the one-child policy have spurred fewer births than expected, and many people among China's younger generations see smaller family sizes as ideal.

See developments in the policy over the years:

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China decides to abolish 1-child policy, allow 2 children
To go with China-family-social-population,FEATURE by Neil Connor This photo taken on April 17, 2015 shows children playing in the schoolyard of the once-bustling Technical Secondary School in Rudong, Jiangsu province. Rusty padlocks seal empty classrooms and blank graduation certificates litter a dusty, silent school corridor in Rudong, a haunting glimpse of China's ageing future in a town which pioneered the one-child policy. One fifth of Rudong's million-strong population is above 65 years old, making it the first place in China to be classified as 'super-elderly', according to state media. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with China-family-social-population,FEATURE by Neil Connor This photo taken on April 17, 2015 shows children playing in the schoolyard of the once-bustling Technical Secondary School in Rudong, Jiangsu province. Rusty padlocks seal empty classrooms and blank graduation certificates litter a dusty, silent school corridor in Rudong, a haunting glimpse of China's ageing future in a town which pioneered the one-child policy. One fifth of Rudong's million-strong population is above 65 years old, making it the first place in China to be classified as 'super-elderly', according to state media. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on January 19, 2015 shows a Chinese mother resting with her daughter while shopping at a furniture store in Beijing. China's working-age population continued to fall in 2014, the government said on January 20, as Beijing struggles to address a spiralling demographic challenge made worse by its one-child policy. AFP PHOTO/GOH CHAI HIN (Photo credit should read GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman pushes a baby carriage on an overpass in Beijing on May 8, 2014. China began to implement the loosening of its controversial one-child policy on January 17, when a province announced it has made it legal for couples to have two children if one parent is an only child. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 02: Young orphaned Chinese children eat a meal during feeding at a foster care center on April 2, 2014 in Beijing, China. China's orphanages and foster homes used to be filled with healthy girls, reflecting the country's one-child policy and its preference for sons. Now the vast majority of orphans are sick or disabled. China says it has 576,000 orphans in its child welfare system though outside groups put the number at closer to a million. The parents who abandon them either cannot afford treatment or feel an inability to cope with raising a child who has special needs. In many cases an unwanted baby is never registered so the parents can skirt the one-child policy if they try for another. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 02: A young orphaned Chinese girl sits in a crib at a foster care center on April 2, 2014 in Beijing, China. China's orphanages and foster homes used to be filled with healthy girls, reflecting the country's one-child policy and its preference for sons. Now the vast majority of orphans are sick or disabled. China says it has 576,000 orphans in its child welfare system though outside groups put the number at closer to a million. The parents who abandon them either cannot afford treatment or feel an inability to cope with raising a child who has special needs. In many cases an unwanted baby is never registered so the parents can skirt the one-child policy if they try for another. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 02: A young orphaned Chinese girl stands in a crib at a foster care center on April 2, 2014 in Beijing, China. China's orphanages and foster homes used to be filled with healthy girls, reflecting the country's one-child policy and its preference for sons. Now the vast majority of orphans are sick or disabled. China says it has 576,000 orphans in its child welfare system though outside groups put the number at closer to a million. The parents who abandon them either cannot afford treatment or feel an inability to cope with raising a child who has special needs. In many cases an unwanted baby is never registered so the parents can skirt the one-child policy if they try for another. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 02: Young Chinese orphaned children eat during a feeding at a foster care center on April 2, 2014 in Beijing, China. China's orphanages and foster homes used to be filled with healthy girls, reflecting the country's one-child policy and its preference for sons. Now the vast majority of orphans are sick or disabled. China says it has 576,000 orphans in its child welfare system though outside groups put the number at closer to a million. The parents who abandon them either cannot afford treatment or feel an inability to cope with raising a child who has special needs. In many cases an unwanted baby is never registered so the parents can skirt the one-child policy if they try for another. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
A Chinese man poses with his son as they visit Tiananmen Square in Beijing on December 5, 2013. Beijing's relaxation of its hugely controversial one-child policy is an attention-grabbing first step, but it will have to usher in greater changes if China is to tackle its looming demographic timebomb, experts say. AFP PHOTO/RITA QIAN --- CHINA OUT (Photo credit should read RITA QIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A child looks at his reflection in a window in Beijing on November 17, 2013. On November 15 China's Communist rulers announced an easing of the country's controversial one-child policy as part of a raft of sweeping pledges including the abolition of its 're-education' labour camps and loosening controls on the economy. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
A mother carries her baby on a street in Shanghai on December 28, 2013. China's top legislative committee formally approved a loosening of the country's hugely controversial one-child policy on December 28 and abolished 're-education through labour' camps, state media reported. AFP PHOTO/Peter PARKS (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)
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The communique followed the panel's meeting this week to chart the country's economic and social development through 2020. In recent years, it has been unusual for such plenary sessions to result in major decisions. They generally focus on economic topics and there was no indication that this one would take action on the one-child policy.

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China, which has the world's largest population at 1.4 billion people, introduced the one-child policy in 1979 as a temporary measure to curb a then-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.

Couples who have broken the rules were forced to pay a fee in proportion to their income. In some cases, rural families saw their livelihood in the form of their pigs and chickens taken away.

In November 2013, the party announced that it would allow couples to have two children if one of the parents is a single child, the first substantial easing of the policy in nearly three decades.

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The government credits the one-child policy with preventing 400 million births and helping lift countless families out of poverty by easing the strain on the country's limited resources. But many demographers argue the birthrate would have fallen anyway as China's economy developed and education levels rose.

Moreover, the abrupt fall in the birthrate has pushed up the average age of the population and demographers foresee a looming crisis because the policy reduced the young labor pool that must support the large baby boom generation as it retires.

"The good news is, it is here. The bad news is, it is too little too late," said Cai Yong, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"It's better late than never," said Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "It might serve to address the current imbalance in the sense that if they do not boost the growth rate then very soon, within 20 years or less, the working population will be supporting four aged parents."

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