Chinese couples must continue to obey the country’s one-child policy until the law changes in March, China’s top family planning body has warned.
On October 29, the Chinese government announced it would relax the rules to allow all couples to have two children.
It said the decision was made because of China’s rapidly ageing population and to help support the economy.
However, officials have stressed that the one-child policy will continue to be enforced until the law is changed.
China’s controversial one-child policy was introduced nationally in 1979 to slow the population growth rate, and is estimated to have prevented about 400 million births.
Though there were exceptions to the policy, most couples who violated it faced punishment, from fines and the loss of employment to forced abortions.
On October 30, a local official was quoted as saying that women pregnant with a second child would no longer be punished, suggesting that the new policy was already effective.
However, on November 1, the National Health and Family Planning Commission said that local officials should continue to implement existing family planning laws until the two-child policy was ratified by lawmakers in March.
“The two-child policy must be implemented in accordance with the law,” an official with the commission said in a statement.
Until the new law was adopted, local officials “must seriously enforce existing policies” and “must not act of their own accord”, the statement added.
The Chinese government estimates that 90 million couples will be eligible for the new two-child policy.
Correspondents say that despite the relaxation of the rules, many Chinese couples may opt to have only one child, as one-child families have become the social norm.
In rural areas, families were allowed to have two children if the first was a girl.
Other exceptions included ethnic minorities and – since 2013 – couples where at least one was a single child.
Campaigners say the policy led to forced abortions, female infanticide, and the under-reporting of female births.
The decision to allow families to have two children was designed “to improve the balanced development of population” and to deal with an aging population, according to the statement from the Community Party’s Central Committee carried by the official Xinhua News Agency on October 29.
Currently about 30% of China’s population is over the age of 50.
Correspondents say that despite the relaxation of the rules, many couples may opt to only have one child, as one-child families have become the social norm.
The announcement comes on the final day of a summit of the Chinese Communist Party’s policy-making Central Committee, known as the fifth plenum.
The Chinese Communist Party is also set to announce growth targets and its next five year plan.
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