China eases one-child policy, but don't expect more 'little emperors'

Smile, kid. You might get a sibling.

China will loosen its one-child policy that has long restricted family sizes for urban couples. The changes were announced Friday, but were agreed upon at the Communist Party's Central Committee meeting that ended earlier this week.

The easing of the rules brings an end to decades-old social engineering experiment that has been criticized by international human rights activists for forced abortions, and Chinese demographers for leaving China with a rapidly graying population. 

While it's a significant step in what will some day be the end of one of the most controversial population control policies the world has ever seen, this does not completely abolish the policy. From now on, if at least one partner is an only child, a couple will be allowed to have two children -- a big change, but still very much a restriction on family size. 

In recently years, China has been loosening the one child policy to the point where it only really applied to one third of the population. But don't expect the changes to lead to a new population boom in China, says Marketplace's Rob Schmitz. While Chinese couples may be able to have a second child, another kid may be too expensive for many families to handle.

"Only children in China -- also known as 'little emperors' -- are mainly found in China's big cities, because rural families in China are often allowed to have more than one child," he says. "And life in China's big cities these days is becoming increasingly more expensive, so it's gotten to the point where many young married couples simply can't afford to have more than one child. So, in the end, this may not result in much of a change because of the stress of living in what has become the world's fastest rising economy."

Aside from the change to the one-child policy, China will also abolish the controversial labor camp re-education system, which critics say is often used by local officials to neutralize people who complain of corruption.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...