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China ends one-child policy with all couples allowed two children

China ends controversial one-child policy and will allow all couples to have two children, according to the official news agency

China announced the end of the controversial one-child policy on Thursday as the country’s Communist leaders battle to confront a demographic time bomb by allowing all couples to have two children for the first time in decades.

Xinhua news agency announced the end of the policy in a communique issued by the ruling Party after a four-day meeting of China’s leaders.

The one-child policy was introduced in the late 1970s as Beijing sought to stem a rapidly growing population, and officials still claim it has been a major factor behind the country’s growing prosperity.

But the rules – which have applied mainly to urban dwellers – have been relaxed in recent years as China confronts the consequences of a dwindling workforce and a huge increase in elderly citizens.

“The change of policy is intended to balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population,” Xinhua said.

The new rules will come into force after being approved by the “top legislature”, Xinhua added, referring to the meeting in March of China’s rubber stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

“This is a stunning, but not unexpected reversal of a long standing policy,” said Professor Nikolas Rose, Head of the Department of Social Science, Health & Medicine at King’s College London.

“It reflects a growing understanding of the implications of controlling the birth rate for the demographics of China as a whole.”

Chinese experts expect the country’s working population — estimated by the government to be roughly 915 million at the end of 2014 — to drop by around 40 million by 2030.

By 2050, 30 per cent of Chinese will be age 60 or over, the United Nations estimates, versus 20 per cent worldwide and 10 per cent in China in the year 2000.

Dr Stuart Gietel-Basten, associate professor of social policy at the University of Oxford, said the move was a “practical decision” which updates an “outdated policy”.

He said the decision was taken now as Beijing is concerned about the costs involved with looking after elderly citizens who had no offspring to care for them.

“It is a perhaps a historical decision for the millions of people who wanted children but previously couldn’t have them,” he said, adding that there was potential for a “baby boom” in China’s western and southern provinces where the policy was more strictly implemented.

The policy had in the past been sometimes brutally enforced by local officials seeking to win favour from leaders in Beijing. Among the punishments for couples violating the rules are fines, the loss of employment and forced and coerced abortions.

Campaigners generally welcomed the reforms, but some said they did not go far enough.

“Couples that have two children could still be subjected to coercive and intrusive forms of contraception, and even forced abortions – which amount to torture,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International.

At the end of 2013, couples nationwide were allowed to have a second child if either parent was an only child. However, relatively few families have applied to take advantage of the changes.

The decision to relax the law was announced as the Communist leadership met in Beijing to address a stuttering economy with a new Five Year Plan, the 13th to be launched since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.

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