China has loosened its one-child policy to allow more couples to have a second child in the rural areas of five provinces and two municipalities, it was announced on the sidelines of the ongoing session of the National People's Congress (NPC).
The amendment means that couples from rural areas in the municipalities of Shanghai and Tianjin and the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, Jiangsu, Anhui and Fujian could have a second child if either of them was the only child.
Till now, rural couples could have a second child if the firstborn was a girl; both rural and urban couples could have a second child if the father and mother was the only child of their parents.
China introduced the one-child policy around 30 years and its long-term impact could result in a negative population growth; the world's fertility rate is 2.7, compared to China's 1.5.
A report by the government-affiliated China Development Research Foundation (CDRF) said China was heading for and an ultra-low fertility rate, as well as issues related to aging, gender imbalances, urbanisation, an expanding shortage of migrant workers and an only-child generation.
The government is not unaware about the impact.
"As per changes in demographic, economic and social landscapes, we have improved our policies regarding child bearing in recent years," Wang Pei'an, vice-minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission said on the sidelines of the NPC.
In his government work report at the opening of the legislature's annual meeting on Tuesday morning, Premier Wen Jiabao vowed to "progressively improve the government population policy" and "adhere to the basic State policy on family planning".
According to state media, the number of people aged between 19 and 59 declined by 3.45 million year-on-year in 2012 on the Chinese mainland, making a significant dent in China's labor force.
The number of people aged 60 and older is estimated to top 200 million in 2013, according to a report on the aging population released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on Feb 26.
According to Ma Xun, director of the Commission's Science and Technology Institute, the amended rules have been gradually introduced and reflects the government was “fine tuning” the population policy.