China eases birth limits further in major shift to ward off demographic crisis

China will allow couples to have up to three children if they fear the number of working-age people in the world’s most populous country is falling too quickly, state media reported on Monday.

Xinhua News Agency reported that the change was approved during a meeting of the Communist Party Politburo chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The news follows census data showing that China’s working-age population has shrunk over the past decade, while the number of those over 65 has risen, adding an additional burden to the economy and society. The growth is the slowest in decades and could pose a major threat to China’s ambitious economic goals, according to experts.

“The birth guidelines will continue to be improved. A policy that enables a couple to have three children is being implemented with supportive measures that will improve China’s population structure, ”Xinhua reported.

The Communist Party has been enforcing birth limits since 1980 to contain population growth, and the population decline is partly due to its controversial one-child policy, imposed in 1979. Couples who fail to adhere to their family planning laws have been fined for their jobs and lives. In some cases, mothers have had to abort their babies or have themselves sterilized.

Restrictions were eased in 2015 after calling for a change to the one-child policy amid slowing economic growth and warnings of economic problems that could result from an aging population. Families were then allowed up to two children per family.

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However, policy liberalization failed to revive the country’s declining birth rate. The 2020 census found that mothers gave birth to 12 million babies in the past year, up from 14.65 million in 2019, an 18 percent year-over-year decline and continuing China’s decline to a low of nearly six decades.

Meanwhile, the number of older people has also risen to 18.7 percent, after 13.26 percent a decade ago and about 10 percent in 2000.

It has not been announced when the new policy will take effect.

The Associated Press contributed.

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