BEIJING IS THE latest province-level entity to follow up on the relaxation of China's one-child policy announced by the National People's Congress (NPC) in December 2013. The NPC's resolution on family planning provides for provincial congresses and their standing committees to make their own calls on implementation of the new policy.
The Standing Committee of the Beijing People's Congress has revised the city's regulations to officially allow couples in which either spouse is an only child to have a second child. Previously, only couples in which both spouses were only children were allowed to have a second child in the city.
The Beijing authorities are also considering whether to increase subsidies or introduce more favourable policies for people such as older couples who have only one child and couples who have lost their only child.
Guangdong, which recently overtook Henan and Shandong to become the most populous province in China with over 104 million residents, was one of the first provinces to follow up on relaxing the one-child policy. Guangdong's population is expected to reach 135 million by 2015 while the provincial capital, Guangzhou, has a population of 16 million which is expected to rise to 18 million by 2020.
These changes come against a backdrop of steadily declining birth rates and changing demographics in China. The working population began to drop in 2012 by 3.45 million annually, and is likely to fall by 8 million each year after 2023, while the population aged 60 and above will reach 400 million and account for a quarter of the total population by the early 2030s, up from one seventh now.
The birth rate is relatively low and is showing signs of falling further. The rate has dropped to between 1.5 and 1.6 since the 1990s, which means each Chinese woman of child-bearing age gives birth to 1.5 to 1.6 children, on average. The government estimates that since the introduction of the rules in the 1970s, the one-child policy has prevented some 400 million births.
There have always been exceptions to the rules governing the one-child policy. A couple could have two children if neither parent had siblings or if either comes from an ethnic minority. Rural couples could apply to have a second child if their first was a daughter. Despite the latest easing of the policy, the NPC noted that family planning remains a key plank in China's strategy of long-term development.