China’s Legislature Approves Relaxation of One-Child Policy

China’s legislature approved a policy to let some couples have a second child, after President Xi Jinping last month proposed relaxing population controls to help counter a shrinking workforce.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed a resolution on adjusting and improving the family planning policy at its bi-monthly session, the official Xinhua News Agency reported today. The committee also voted to abolish the system of reeducation through labor camps, known as laojiao, Xinhua said.

China’s new leadership, headed by Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, are accelerating an unwinding of Communist Party policies that originated during or shortly after the reign of Chairman Mao Zedong. The changes were first announced last month as part of the broadest policy reforms since the 1990s.

The one-child policy, put in place after Mao’s death in 1976, was intended to alleviate poverty and control the rapid growth in the country’s population. It has also saddled the nation with a declining labor force: The United Nations estimates the number of 15-24 year-olds, the mainstay of factories that drove China’s economic growth for two decades, will shrink by about 67 million by 2030.

Local Implementation

Under the new rules, couples will be able to have two children if either parent is an only child, Previously, they were only allowed to have a second baby if both were only children. The NPC said provincial governments will be allowed to make their own decisions on implementation of the policy depending on local conditions, Xinhua reported.

Beijing’s government said it expects to start implementing the policy in March and the local health department will increase the number of maternity beds to cope with the changes, according to a Xinhua report yesterday.

The new policy will help maintain China’s labor force at a “reasonable size,” ease the speed at which the country’s population is aging and boost the economy, Wang Peian, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission said last month.

At the same time, “not too many” couples fulfill the new criteria and the change won’t lead to a large increase in the population in the short term, Wang said. The number of people in China in 2020 will still be “significantly” below 1.43 billion and the expected peak population will be well below 1.5 billion, Wang said. A 2010 census put the figure that year at 1.34 billion.

Declining Workforce

China is also planning to raise the retirement age for the first time since the 1950s to help alleviate labor shortages and counter the impact of a declining workforce. The labor force dropped by 3.45 million people last year, the first absolute fall, according to government data.

The move to end re-education through labor camps reflects a recognition by Chinese leadership of widespread anger about the system, which allows police to send people to such institutions for as long as four years without trial.

After the abolition, those who are serving “laojiao” penalties will be set free and their remaining terms will not be enforced, Xinhua said, citing the NPC decision.

— With assistance by Tian Ying

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