China officially ends one-child policy

 A couple taking a picture with their baby on the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on Nov 2, 2015.
A couple taking a picture with their baby on the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on Nov 2, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • China has officially ended its one-child policy with the signing into law of a Bill allowing all married couples to have a second child as the country attempts to cope with an ageing population and shrinking workforce.

The change, which was announced in October by the ruling Communist Party, takes effect on Jan 1, the Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

All married couples will be allowed to have a second child but the legislation maintains limits on additional births.

The one-child policy, instituted in the late 1970s, restricted most couples to only a single offspring and, for years, the authorities argued that it was a key contributor to China's economic boom and prevented 400 million births.

The policy has been enforced by a dedicated national commission with a system of fines for violators and often forced abortions, leading to heart-rending tales of loss for would-be parents.

The policy led to sex-selective abortions or infanticide targeting girls because of a centuries-old social preference for boys.

Rural families were already allowed two children if the first was a girl, while ethnic minorities were allowed an extra offspring, leading some to dub it a "one-and-a-half child" policy.

As a result, China's population - the world's largest at 1.37 billion - is now ageing rapidly; gender imbalances are severe, and its workforce is shrinking.

These concerns led to limited reforms in 2013, including allowing couples to have two children if either of them was an only child, but relatively few have taken up the opportunity due to limited income and higher perceived opportunity costs.

Experts say that the shift to a two-children policy is likely too little, too late to address China's looming population crisis and that the government is unlikely to dismantle enforcement mechanisms for reproductive control due to deeply entrenched bureaucratic interests.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'China officially ends one-child policy'. Print Edition | Subscribe