China To Relax One Child Policy

China’s state-run media announced Friday that the country will be relaxing its one child policy. According to the Xinhua news agency, if one of the parents is an only child, a couple will be allowed to have two children. And, in another pro-democratization development, Xinhua reported that China will also be eliminating labor camps, which currently house tens of thousands of prisoners.

The Xinhua agency reported that, “The birth policy will be adjusted and improved step by step to promote ‘long-term balanced development of the population in China.’” The announcement comes just days after top communist party leaders concluded a meeting called the Third Plenum. Earlier this year, a census in the country showed that the country’s working-age population was decreasing — a consideration that many think might have influenced the decision to loosen restrictions after years of dismissing rumors on the topic.

The much-discussed policy was put in place in the late 1970s as a population control mechanism for the world’s largest country. Enforcement varied across different areas of the country, and, at times, it was brutal. Now, the policy is expanding to allow flexibility for a greater number of couples, as before the change both parents had to be only children in order to be allowed to have two children of their own.

The criminal justice reforms announced after the Third Plenum include the gradual abolition of the labor camp system, which is often a “reeducation” punishment for petty offenses and provides a cover for many human rights abuses. As it stands now, some people are sentenced to the labor camps without a trial. It also said that slowly, the crimes punishable by the death penalty will be decreased.

These developments are great, of course, and it shows that sometimes, international pressure can lead to positive changes in different countries. "I think there is going to continue to be progress, but the question is how much and how quickly," a U.S. Treasury official said. "The direction is significant, but the character and the pace of change matters."

Yet it remains to be seen what an impact the changes will actually have on the ground. China, a new member of the United Nations human rights council, has long been accused of having many human rights violations.