China to ease one-child policy: State news agency

China to ease one-child policy: State news agency

BEIJING - Agence France-Presse
China to ease one-child policy: State news agency

In this Jan. 10, 2013 photo, parents play with their children at a kid's play area in a shopping mall in Beijing. China will loosen its decades-old one-child policy and abolish a much-criticized labor camp system, its ruling Communist Party said Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. AP Photo

China will relax its hugely controversial one-child policy, state media said Nov. 15, in a major policy shift announced days after a meeting of the country's top Communist Party leaders.

The change to China's family-planning policy will let couples have two children if one of the parents is an only child, state news agency Xinhua reported, citing a "key decision" made by leaders at this week's gathering, known as the Third Plenum.

The policy was brought in during the late 1970s to control China's huge population, the world's largest, but has at times been brutally enforced.

The law currently restricts most couples to one child, with one of the exceptions allowing a second if both parents are only children.

"The birth policy will be adjusted and improved step by step to promote 'long-term balanced development of the population in China'," Xinhua reported, citing the decision of top officials this week in Beijing.

Despite calls for relaxation of the family-planning law and rumours that it might be reformed, Chinese officials have repeatedly argued that the policy is still needed, claiming over-population threatens the country's development.

At the same time census officials warned earlier this year that China's working-age population had begun to shrink after three decades of astounding economic growth.

'Re-education through labour' system

China is to abolish its controversial "re-education through labour" system, under which police panels can sentence offenders to years in camps without a trial, the official Xinhua news agency said Nov. 15.

The move was "part of efforts to improve human rights and judicial practices" it said, and came in a detailed reform statement issued after a key meeting of the ruling Communist party that ended earlier this week.

The gathering, known as the Third Plenum, had also decided to reduce "step by step" the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, Xinhua added.

The deeply unpopular labour camp system, known as "laojiao", is largely used for petty offenders but is also blamed for widespread rights abuses by corrupt officials seeking to punish whistleblowers and those who try to complain about them to higher authorities.