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The Chinese government has loosened its one-child policy, allowing families where one parent was an only child to join other families with an exemption that allows for the birth of a second child, such as rural families which had a girl first.

China has significantly modified its one-child policy for the first time in three decades, loosening the rules to allow families in which a parent has no siblings to have a second child. The move is in response to the increasing age of the population overall and a subsequent lack of young people to support them.

The Washington Post called the controversial policy by China's Communist leaders "one of the biggest experiments in state-mandated demographic engineering."

A United Nations fertility estimator said that from 1970-1975, the Chinese birthrate was about 4.77 children per woman of child-bearing age. The estimate for 2010-2015 is 1.66 children per woman of childbearing age.

Friday's announcement alters a 33-year policy. The new rule grants rural couples whose firstborn was a girl or couples where both parents have no siblings to have a second child. There have been exceptions for ethnic minorities.

That is a big change because many people of child-bearing years were subject to the one-child rule.

The result of the policy has been not only a shrinking pool of younger workers to support the growing elderly population and maintain a vibrant workforce, but also a serious imbalance between sexes. According to a CNN article, close to 30 million more men than women will reach adulthood and enter what it called "China's mating market" by 2020.

Noted The Wall Street Journal, "The document, released Friday night, is the culmination of a four-day meeting of top Communist Party leaders in Beijing that ended Tuesday. ... The document said China would significantly ease its one-child policy, allowing couples to have two children if one of the parents is an only child. Currently, Chinese couples are restricted to one child except under some circumstances, such as rural dwellers, pilot programs in a number of areas and among ethnic minorities."

Another WSJ article noted that "the policy has been lauded by officials for taming a surging population from a years-earlier baby boom. But economists say it risks eroding China's competitive advantage, draining its labor pool of future workers as the population ages and puts a greater strain on China's emerging social safety net."

It said, "The policy has also come under fire for local-level abuses such as forced abortions and sterilizations — practices that are illegal in China but are sometimes used by local officials to meet their family-planning quotas."

Despite the change, no one is predicting the population imbalance in China will change much in the near future. It is predicted that among couples who have been allowed the option of a second child many will choose not to because of the rising costs of housing and education, the Washington Post noted.

"The birth rate of most Chinese provinces, especially in coastal provinces, is actually very low," China demographer He Yafu told USA Today. "Many couples don't want to give birth to a second child because of the financial burden."

The article noted that the existing "one-child policy is having a distorting effect on a modernizing society of 1.3 billion whose 194 million citizens over age 60 have few children to rely on for aid. China also needs more workers to maintain economic growth and generate tax revenues to care for a growing elderly population."

Chinese officials also announced the end of penal colonies for political prisoners.

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