China on Friday announced that it would partially loosen its one-child policy and abolish the much reviled system of re-education through labour camps.
For several decades, it was illegal for couples in China – other than those from ethnic minority communities and rural couples – to have more than one child. Those who had a second one had to pay a hefty fine.
“China will loosen its decades-long one-child population policy, allowing couples to have two children if one of them is an only child, according to a key decision issued on Friday by the Communist Party of China (CPC),” state-run Xinhua said on Friday evening.
“The birth policy will be adjusted and improved step by step to promote ‘long-term balanced development of the population in China’ ” it said.
Though the changed policy had been tested in parts of the country, it was for the first time that the government had made an official announcement.
The change in policy was approved at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee held between November 9 and 12 in Beijing.
China's family planning policy was first introduced in the late 1970s to rein in the surging population by limiting most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two children, if the first child born was a girl..
“The policy was later relaxed, with its current form stipulating that both parents must be only children if they are to have a second child,” Xinhua said.
Though the official statement did not make any mention, it is likely that the Chinese government took the decision to address the demographic imbalance in the country.
Government data had revealed earlier this year that doctors had aborted more than 336 million foetuses in the years that the policy has been in place.
Besides 336 million abortions, doctors sterilised more than 196 million men and inserted 403 million intra-uterine devices in women.
The fetish for a male child led to the abortion of female fetuses, critics of the policy said.
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.
In the second major decision, China said it will abolish the "reeducation through labor" system as part of a major effort to protect human rights, Xinhua quoted a key policy document of the Communist Party of China (CPC) published Friday as saying.
Re-education-through-labor, or laojiao, is an administrative punishment imposed by the police and was adopted by the government in 1957.
It allows police to detain people for up to four years without an open trial.
According to recent figures from the Bureau of Re-education through Labor under the Ministry of Justice, 160,000 people were imprisoned in 350 re-education labour centres nationwide as of the end of 2008.
Friday’s CPC document added that China will also reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty "step by step.”
“Laws relating to correction and punishment will be improved. Community-based correction which helps convicts return to society will also be improved,” it said.
The country will work to ban extorting confessions through torture and physical abuse, the document said.
The document added that courts will be told to tighten the practice of ruling out illegally obtained evidence, while law enforcement agencies will regulate procedures of sealing up, seizing, freezing and handling properties involved in judicial investigations.