China Rethinks One-Child Policy as It Ages Rapidly

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Jose Luis Pelaez | Blend Images | Getty Images

China is mulling changes to its one-child policy, a former family planning official said, with government advisory bodies drafting proposals in the face of a rapidly aging society in the world's most populous nation.

Proposed changes would allow for urban couples to have a second child, even if one of the parents is themselves not an only child, the China Daily cited Zhang Weiqing, the former head of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, as saying on Wednesday.

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Under current rules, urban couples are permitted a second child if both parents do not have siblings. Looser restrictions on rural couples means many have more than one child.

Population scholars have cited mounting demographic challenges in their calls for reform of the strict policy, introduced in 1979 to limit births in China, which now has 1.34 billion people.

Zhang said the commission and other population research institutes have submitted policy recommendations to the government.

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Zhang, who now serves on China's congressional advisory body, said any changes if adopted would be gradual.

"China's population policy has always taken into account demographic changes but any fine-tuning to the policy should be gradual and consider the situation in different areas," China Daily cited Zhang as saying.

The relaxed policy might be implemented first in "economically productive regions" and places that have followed closely existing regulations, the paper said.

Demographers warn that the one-child policy has led to a rapidly greying population that could hamper China's future economic competitiveness. Critics say it also has fuelled forced abortions and increased social tensions stemming from an imbalance in the number of boys and girls born.

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Though forced abortions are illegal in China, officials have long been known to compel women to have the procedures to meet birth-rate targets.

Earlier this year, debate over the country's strict family planning rules erupted after a woman in the northwestern province of Shaanxi was forced by officials to abort her seven-month pregnancy.