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China changes law to allow married couples to have up to three children

The change comes as the world’s most populous country grapples with a demographic crisis.
Newborn Babies In Jingzhou Hospital
A medical worker takes care of a newborn baby lying inside an incubator on February 11, 2021 in Jingzhou, China.Huang Zhigang / VCG via Getty Images

China will allow married couples to legally have up to three children amid concerns that the number of working-age people in the world’s most populous country is falling too fast, consequently threatening its hopes of increased prosperity and global influence in the future.

The ceremonial legislature amended the Population and Family Planning Law on Friday as part of a decades-long effort by the ruling Communist Party to dictate the size of families in keeping with political directives.

Xinhua news agency, a Chinese state media organization, reported back in May that the law change had been approved during a Communist Party Politburo meeting chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Communist Party has enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth. China's declining birthrate is partially a result of a one-child policy imposed in 1979. The country long touted such policy as a success in preventing 400 million additional births, thus saving resources and helping drive economic growth.

Couples who didn’t abide by the one-child policy faced losing their jobs and being fined. In some cases, mothers were forced to have abortions or be sterilized. A preference for sons also led parents to kill baby girls, leading to a massive imbalance in the sex ratio.

Restrictions in family planning laws were eased for the first time in 2015, allowing families to have up to two children as officials acknowledged the looming consequences of the plummeting birthrate. But that change did little to curb the country's declining birthrate.

Statistics show that there were 12 million births last year, down from 14.65 million in 2019, an 18 percent decline, continuing China's descent to a near six-decade low.

At the same time, the number of Chinese people over the age of 60 reached 264 million, accounting for 18.7 percent of the country’s total population in 2020, which is nearly six percentage points higher than in 2010.

During that same time period, China's working-age population fell to 63.3 percent of the total from 70.1 percent a decade ago.

A combination of these trends has caused an overwhelming fear that China will grow old before it becomes wealthy.

At its session Friday, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress canceled the leveling of fines for breaking the earlier restrictions and called for additional parental leave and childcare resources. New measures in finance, taxation, schooling, housing and employment should be introduced “to ease the burden on families,” the amendment said.

It also seeks to address longstanding discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace that is considered one of the chief disincentives to having additional children, along with high costs and cramped housing.