BEIJING (AFP) - Beijing says the one-child policy has played a key role in the country's economic success, but the controversial rule inflicted physical, emotional and financial pain on millions of ordinary Chinese.
There was a global outcry in 2012 when Feng Jianmei was forced to undergo an abortion seven months into her pregnancy, after failing to pay a 40,000 yuan (S$8,776) fine.
Photos of her lying next to her bloody, dead foetus caused outrage when they circulated online, providing a rallying cry for activists who said forced abortions were a regular occurrence.
The procedure was performed past the legal limit of six months and authorities were forced to pay 70,000 yuan in compensation, but Feng's lawyer said the money would never compensate for the lifetime of "spiritual pain" the family would have to endure.
Two officials involved were sacked and five others received minor punishments, though Feng, the lawyer, and many ordinary Chinese called the punishments insufficient.
The rules have often been enforced unevenly, with China's best-known film director Zhang Yimou admitting having four children.
He was only forced to pay a fine of $1.2 million after rumours began circulating online, but many argue that financial penalties are an ineffective deterrent for wealthy families who can afford them.
The regulation also led to sex-selective abortions, especially in rural areas where boys are prized over girls.
Reports of infanticide targeting girls were also common, with propaganda painted in large red characters across the countryside urging families to do away with the centuries-old preference for a male heir.
An activist who highlighted the issue of forced abortions under the policy, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, was jailed for over four years.
He fled his village for the United States in 2012, after tackling the authorities on other thorny issues such as pollution, discrimination and corruption.
This year a Chinese company came under for fire for plans to demand its employees seek approval before becoming pregnant and fine those who conceive a child without permission, in an echo of the national policy.
"Only married female workers who have worked for the company for more than one year can apply for a place on the birth planning schedule," read a policy distributed by a credit cooperative in Jiaozuo, in the central province of Henan.
"The employee must strictly stick to the birth plan once it is approved," it added. "Those who get pregnant in violation of the plan such that their work is affected will be fined 1,000 yuan ($161)."
Cases of abandoned babies - such as a newborn girl who was found crying alone in a Beijing public toilet in August - have also been linked to the one-child law.