China is to allow couples to legally have a third child as it seeks to hold off a demographic crisis that could threaten its hopes of increased prosperity and global influence.
The ceremonial legislature amended the Population and Family Planning Law as part of a decades-long effort by the ruling Communist Party to dictate the size of families in keeping with political directives.
It comes six years after the last change. The rules were eased in 2015 to allow two children as officials acknowledged the looming consequences of a plummeting birth rate, amid a fear that China will grow old before it becomes wealthy.
From the 1980s, China strictly limited most couples to one child, a policy enforced with threats of fines or loss of jobs, leading to abuses including forced abortions.
A preference for sons led parents to kill baby girls, leading to a massive imbalance in the sex ratio.
China long touted its one-child policy as a success in preventing 400 million additional births in the world’s most populous country, saving resources and helping drive economic growth.
However, the birth rate – paralleling trends in South Korea, Thailand and other Asian economies – was already falling before the one-child rule.
The average number of children per mother tumbled from above six in the 1960s to below three by 1980, according to the World Bank.
The number of working-age people in China has fallen over the past decade and the population has barely grown, adding to strains in an ageing society.
A once-a-decade government census found the population rose to 1.411 billion people last year, up 72 million from 2010.
Statistics show 12 million babies were born last year, which would be down 18% from 2019’s 14.6 million.