China to let more couples have a 2nd child

FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2013 photo, parents play with their children at a kid's play area in a shopping mall in Beijing. China will loosen its decades-old one-child policy and abolish a much-criticized labor camp system, its ruling Communist Party said Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. The official Xinhua News Agency said the party announced the changes in a policy document following a key, four-day meeting of party leaders that ended Tuesday in Beijing. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2013 photo, parents play with their children at a kid's play area in a shopping mall in Beijing. China will loosen its decades-old one-child policy and abolish a much-criticized labor camp system, its ruling Communist Party said Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. The official Xinhua News Agency said the party announced the changes in a policy document following a key, four-day meeting of party leaders that ended Tuesday in Beijing. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, File)

— The Chinese government announced Friday night that it will loosen its three-decade one-child policy, allowing couples to have a second baby if either is an only child, one of a package of reforms enacted at a Communist Party enclave this week.

In a statement read on the evening news, the Chinese government said it would adhere to the principle of limiting family size while promoting the “long-term balanced development of the population of China.”

The Chinese government also pledged to improve its human-rights record by abolishing the much-criticized “re-education through labor” program, which allows people to be sent to labor camps for up to four years without trial.

The statement also promised to reduce land confiscations — a major grievance in the Chinese countryside — and to reduce the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty, something that has been an ongoing process.

However, it is the change in the one-child policy that is likely to have the most immediate impact on Chinese families. Demographers have estimated that some 10 million couples will be allowed to have second children as a result of the change.

The law currently allows couples in which both are only children to have an extra baby.

Since the law was first adopted in 1980, Communist Party officials have tweaked the rules repeatedly, allowing various exceptions for minorities and rural families, but there have been few major amendments of this kind.

China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission says the law has kept the country’s population of 1.3 billion in check, preventing 400 million births.

Demographers say that the impact has been exaggerated and that the law instead has led to a gender imbalance, with more boys than girls born, and that it could impair China’s growth by creating an aging population with too few workers.

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