China is to abolish its one-child policy and allow all couples to have two children, the official Xinhua news agency reported Thursday from a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Beijing.
The proposal must be approved by the country’s top legislature, which is meeting next in March, before it is enacted.
The change in policy is intended to “balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population,” Xinhua cited a communique from the four-day meeting as saying.
Chinese citizens reacted with an outpouring of support on social media. “Change it quick!” a female commenter said on the microblogging platform Weibo. “All my friends are waiting [to have more children].”
Others called the policy an “evil law” and said the government should have abolished it long before rising living and education costs made it expensive to raise children.
“Rich and powerful people can have dozens of children, but those with no money and no power will have problems having even just one child,” one microblogger wrote.
On average, Chinese women have slightly fewer than 1.6 children, but a birth rate of 2.1 is needed for a stable population.
The one-child policy was introduced in the 1970s to prevent a population explosion.
Without the policy China would have about 300 million more people than now, according to estimates.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences earlier suggested a two-child solution to the problem of ageing population and a falling birth rate, media reports said.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch.
“However it should not be mistaken with the full embrace of reproductive freedom. The state continues to get involved – in our view arbitrarily and unnecessary – in a person’s reproductive rights,” Richardson told dpa.
Chinese women remain at risk of intrusive forms of contraception and coerced or forced abortions, Amnesty International said.
The government’s invasive and punitive controls “amount to torture,” said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty.
The US also welcomed the move as a “positive step,” but the White House said it continues to have concerns about Beijing’s human rights violations, including restrictions on reproductive freedoms.
“We also look forward to the day when birth limts are abandoned altogether,” spokesman Josh Earnest said. “The United States in our work around the world continues to oppose coercive birth limitation policies, including things liked forced abortion and sterilization.”
Despite a relaxing of the one-child policy earlier this year, Amnesty said it has continued to receive reports of coerced abortions and sterilizations in China.