China eases one-child policy and abolishes labour camps

ChinaChinese lawmakers on Saturday approved the move to ease controversial one-child policy and abolish notorious labour camps, which allow detention of petty offenders without trial.

State-run Xinhua news agency reported the standing committee of Chinese parliament, National People’s Congress, took the decisions after a six-day meeting.

The revised policy would allow couples, where either parent has no siblings, to have two children. The family planning policy was imposed 34 years ago to check overpopulation.

China has long defended the policy, saying it checked the population growth, boosted development and propelled the impoverished country to become the world’s second-largest economy.

Experts said demographic challenges like increasing elderly population, a dwindling labour force and depleting sex ratio prompted the revised policy, which is estimated to apply to around 10 million couples. They added China has been able to handle challenges like food shortages thanks to the policy.

Xinhua reported provincial congresses will implement the new policy “based on evaluation of local demographic situation and in line with the law on population and family planning as well as this (standing committee) resolution”.

The one-child policy reforms are expected to come into force in the first quarter of 2014, a senior official told Xinhua.

“This is a big day. We felt so restricted with the government interfering in our personal life. We will surely go for a second child,” Huang Fang, a schoolteacher in Beijing, told TOI. “Our parents are also looking forward to more grandchildren”.

Most Chinese couples in reproductive ages were born after late 1970s when the one-child policy was introduced. The new policy will effectively cover the bulk of Chinese parents hoping to have a second child.

China began tweaking the one-child policy a few years back. It initially allowed some relaxation in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai and later allowed couples to have a second child if both parents are single children. The policy has now been extended to couples where one of the parents is a single child.

“The Chinese government has shown it has the guts, the courage to do things that appear to be difficult,” State media quoted Fu Hualing, a professor at the Law School of Hong Kong University, as saying.

The abolition of labour camps would allow hundreds of inmates to walk free. The camps, which were introduced over 50 years ago to tackle petty offenders, allow police to issue sentences of up to four years without trial.

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