One-child policy to be eased at long last after third plenum resolution
Third plenum resolution calls for controversial policy to be gradually relaxed and orders end to labour camp punishment for petty criminals
Zhuang Pinghui and Verna Yu
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The Communist Party's central committee has responded to long-time calls to relax the one-child policy and to put an end to notorious labour camps.
Participants at the third plenum, which ended on Tuesday, agreed to gradually change and improve the birth policy, starting with allowing families where just one parent is a single child to have a second child.
The decisions were part of a raft of new measures mentioned in a resolution of the plenum released by Xinhua last night.
In an explanation of the resolution, Communist Party chief Xi Jinping said reforms were the only way unify the public and to enable the country to compete with capitalism.
"To push forward sustainable, healthy economic and social development, there is no other way but to deepen reforms and opening up," Xi said.
A demographer who drafted the proposal to relax the one-child policy said yesterday the reform would most likely be carried out in phases.
It would probably start in provinces that have long had low birth rates, such as the eastern part of the country, before it is implemented nationwide.
Further relaxation of the one-child policy, such as allowing all couples to have a second child without any restraints, might be introduced after 2020.
The policy change is expected to affect urban residents born in the 1970s only, because rural residents are already allowed to have a second child if their first-born is a girl.
Urban residents born in the 1980s and 1990s are already entitled to have a second child if both parents are already single children as the result of the one-child policy that was implemented in the late 1970s.
Chen Wei, a demographer at Beijing's Renmin University, said the policy was being relaxed because of the nation's lingering low birth rate, a sharp drop in the labour force aged below 30 and an abnormally high ratio of newborn boys to girls.
The party also announced it would abolish the notorious, decades-old practice of sending petty criminals and government critics to forced labour.
Experts applauded the scrapping of the punishment regime, known as laojiao, that gave police unilateral power to send people to labour camps for up to four years without trial.
But they were worried it would be replaced by another form of extra-judicial punishment that would still involve arbitrary detention without court approval - particularly when "stability maintenance" was still an over-arching goal of the government.
Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: "The tiger is not going to change its stripes.
"But given this situation within the framework of China's current political system, I think the abolition of re-education through labour is a very positive step - so long as it is not replaced by a similar system that allows for arbitrary detention."