China scraps decades-old one-child policy; allows couples to have two kids

Beijing: Grappling with a major demographic crisis and an economic slowdown, China's ruling Communist Party on Thursday scrapped its controversial three decades-long one-child policy, allowing all couples in the world's most populous nation to have two children.

"China abandons one-child policy," Xinhua, China's official news agency, said on Twitter, citing a communique issued by the Communist Party of China (CPC), relaxing the rigid policy by permitting all couples to have two children in a move that can have huge implications globally.

Today's announcement comes at the end of the four-day plenary session of the CPC headed by President Xi Jinping here amid growing concerns of rising numbers of old age population as well as concerns over declining labour force putting the world's second largest economy under severe strain.

The change of policy is intended to balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population, the CPC communique said. The proposal is to be approved by the rubber stamp legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), before it is implemented. The plenary session of the party which met to finalise the 13th five-year plan to be implemented from next year decided to permit all couples to have two children.

According to last year's official report, China had about 185 million people above the age of 60, or 13.7 per cent of the population and the numbers were expected to surge to 221 million this year, including 51 million 'empty nesters' or elderly people whose children no longer live with them.

This is the first time China has done away with its one-child policy in over three-and-a-half long decades. The policy was considered controversial as it forced many abortions and continued to be criticised by rights groups and activists.

The announcement comes amid slowdown of China's economy that has plunged below the 7 per cent figure for the first time since the 2009 global economic crisis. China has been assessing the adjustment made to the one-child policy - allowing parents to have two children if
either parent is an only child - to decide if further adjustment of birth policies are needed to address change in population growth.

The country gave the limited relaxation to the policy, adopting the policy adjustment at the end of 2013 in a major change on the family planning policy that has been blamed for the country's looming demographic crisis. China, also the world's second largest economy, is the
most populous country with a population of over 1.357 billion people, according to the 2013 census.

China introduced its family planning policy in the late 1970s to rein in population growth by limiting most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two, allowing the birth of a second child only if the first child was a girl.

Officials say that the one child policy has prevented over 400 million births.

According to United Nations estimates, China will have nearly 440 million people aged over 60 by 2050. The 2013 move, permitting couples from one child families to have a second child, drew poor response from all over the country due to apprehension over heavy costs in bringing up the children at a time when the economy is on the decline. China's one-child policy was applicable to only the majority Han community which constitutes over 95 per cent of the country and does not apply to ethnic minority groups, many of whom can have two or more children in a family.

The CPC has done away with the much criticised policy for its stringent implementation after surveys pointed out that the rapidly ageing China may face a labour shortfall as early as 2021 besides gender imbalance if the policy is pursued further.

China's labour population will show a downward trend as workers born during the baby boom in the 1960-70s begin to retire in 2021, Yao Meixiong, deputy head of the Centre for Population Census of Fujian Provincial Bureau of Statistics said. By the end of 2014, China had 212 million people aged above 60, accounting for 15.5 per cent of the total, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs."

Young labour resources between the age of 20 to 34 will plunge year by year from 2021. The drop could amount to 11 million each year from 2022 to 2025. "By 2030, the youth labour force at this rate will drop to 221 million, 32 percent or 104 million fewer than 2010," Xinhua, on October 20, quoted Yao as saying. He said the population under 14 years old only accounted for 16.5 per cent of the country's total, compared with the world's average of 27 per cent. The population of workers aged between 16 and 59 shrank by 3.71 million year on year in 2014, official data showed. Yao pointed out that a gender imbalance could also be problematic.

"For people less than 19 years old in 2010, 172 million were males, 22.1 million more than females. This means about 10 per cent of male youths will find it hard to find female spouses beginning in 2020," he said.

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