China's parliament on Saturday formally adopted resolutions, easing the country's decades-old one-child policy and also abolishing its controversial labor camp system which was used against house church Christians among others, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The two resolutions, which were part of a sweeping range of reforms announced by the ruling Chinese Communist Party last month, were adopted on Saturday at the bimonthly session of the National People's Congress' Standing Committee, or China's largely rubber-stamp parliament.
Under the new policy concerning the birth control rules, couples will be allowed to have two children if either parent is an only child. Provincial congresses and their standing committees have been asked to make their own calls on implementation of the new policy.
China established the one-child policy in the late 1970s to check the nation's population growth. It allowed families with neither parent having siblings to have two children. It is estimated that the policy averted 200 million births between 1979 and 2009.
The policy has been controversial because of the manner in which it has been implemented, resulting in forced abortions, female infanticide, and underreporting of female births. Chinese families have traditionally preferred to have male children.
The policy has been eased partly due to concerns over the fast decreasing working population in the country. China is likely to have about 25 percent of its population above the age of 65 by 2030.
"China still has a large population. This has not changed. Many of our economic and social problems are rooted in this reality," The Independent quoted Jiang Fan, an NPC deputy and member of its agriculture and rural affairs committee, as warning last week. "We cannot risk the population growing out of control."
The other key resolution adopted Saturday abolished "laojiao," or re-education through labor, with immediate effect. The system empowers police to send petty criminals to labor camps for up to four years without having to get an approval from a court.
All those serving time in labor camps would be released beginning Saturday, the resolution states, but also adds that the penalties handed out before the abolition would still remain valid, apparently to prevent the victims from seeking legal redress.
The controversial punishment system was established in 1957 to punish critics of the Communist Party. However, the system has also been used to deal with house church Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, minority nationalities – including Tibetans – and democracy activists.
"It has become a tool of revenge and retaliation," Wang Gongyi, a former director of a research institute under the Chinese Ministry of Justice, said earlier this year, according to The Associated Press.
According to Human Rights Watch, the nation had 260 labour camps with 160,000 inmates, as of early 2013.