After more than 35 years, China has rescinded its law banning many families from having more than one child; all of them will now be allowed to have two. The shift comes as China faces low fertility rates and an aging trend in its population.
"China will allow all couples to have two children, abandoning its decades-long one-child policy, according to a communique issued Thursday by the Communist Party of China," the state-run Xinhua news agency reports.
When the one-child policy was formally instituted in 1980, China's population was nearing 1 billion; the country now has more than 1.35 billion people.
"China's government has long argued that having too many mouths to feed would hold back the country's development," NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing. "But critics have argued that besides being immoral, the policy was never really necessary, because as the country developed, couples would not want to have children, and that is exactly what has happened."
The new two-child policy comes after the original ban on having more than one child — an offense punishable by fines — was tweaked several times in recent years. Only-child parents were given more leeway, for instance.
When it reviewed possible changes to the one-child policy over the summer, China's National Health and Family Planning Commission also looked at policies that would "reduce the burden" on parents who have two children, Xinhua reported.
But Xinhua also added:
"The public's reception of a two-child policy may not be as welcoming as expected, as has been shown by the lackluster response to the 2013 policy change that allowed couples to have a second child if either of them is an only child. In addition, people born after 1980 are less enthusiastic about having more than one child."
For years, the one-child policy was blamed for infanticide — particularly of female babies — and for coerced abortions.
When Anthony Kuhn reported on a Chinese county whose vigorous population-control enforcement has led to an age in which schools are shuttered and retirement centers pop up, one former Communist Party secretary described how officials were once always on the lookout for pregnant women.
"Having a second child wasn't allowed, so we had to work on them and persuade them to have an abortion," he said. "At the time, we village cadres' work revolved around women's big bellies."