It was the biggest change to the world’s most famous example of population control in over thirty years. In November 2013, The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress – the Chinese congress – decreed that following the completion of a trial period in the eastern Zhejiang province, all Chinese couples would be allowed to apply for permission to have a second child, provided one of the parents was an only child themselves. The scheme was subsequently rolled out nationwide.
China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, now reports that the National Health and Family Planning Commission yesterday announced one million couples have submitted such an application, including 30,000 families in Beijing. This, according to Mao Qunan, commission spokesman, is less than the estimated two million couples who were expected to submit such an application.
The one-child policy became law in 1979, to control China’s booming population – 969 million people at the time – and stated that henceforth Chinese couples were only allowed to have one child. An exception to the rule was if both parents were only children, and furthermore, couples in rural areas were allowed two children if the first was a girl, or disabled.
By 2013, China’s population had grown to 1.3 billion, 200 million less than the population would have reached without the impact of the one-child policy, according to a report by the Brookings–Tsinghua Center for Public Policy.
Several other significant demographic changes have also been observed over the past 35 years, including a large ageing population, with a quarter of the population expected to be over 65 by 2050, up from around ten per cent at present. There have also been serious gender repercussions, including unreported female births and female infanticide, as parents prioritise having a son over a daughter. One estimate states that for every 100 female births since 1979, there have been 117 male births, resulting in an estimated 24 million more single men than women in China by the end of the decade.
The government will be hoping the November 2013 ruling will prompt a population boost, helping to stabilise these imbalances in the national population. It’s hoped also that it will assist with supporting the growing number of elderly and retired people in the country. However, they will require the number of annual second-child applications to rise to the expected two million in order to match the growth numbers they are aiming for.