15 November 2013
to loosen one-child policy and abolish labour camps
party announces that couples can have two children if one parent
is an only child
has revealed a range of substantial reforms that will affect tens
of millions of people, including loosening its one-child policy
and abolishing its controversial labour camps.
media revealed the reforms on Friday night in a 22,000-word report
detailing the results of the third plenum, a closed-door annual
meeting of about 400 top party leaders, that has historically
been used as a launching pad for substantial reforms. Plenums
in 1978 and 1993 laid the foundations for China's current economic
model, a combination of market capitalism and tight political
which one member is an only child will be allowed to have two
children, China's state newswire Xinhua reported , citing the
results of the plenumwhich ended in Beijing on Tuesday. While
most people in China are still only allowed to have one child,
some groups, including ethnic minorities, disabled people, and
couples in which both members are only children, are allowed to
to the document, the Communist party also plans to scrap its extrajudicial
"re-education through labour" detention system, improve
social welfare programs, and ease migration restrictions for the
tens of millions of rural residents attempting to put down roots
in cities. Details of the reforms and timelines for their implementation
are still unclear.
established its re-education through labour system in 1957 at
the height of Maoist fervour to expediently dispatch "counter-revolutionaries".
More recently, local authorities have used it to clear their streets
of petty criminals, such as thieves and prostitutes, without the
burden of due process. Other common targets include political
dissidents and members of banned religious groups.
may last up to four years, and conditions in prison are often
described as brutal prisoners are crammed into tiny cells,
deprived of adequate sustenance, and sometimes tortured. Despite
an absence of official statistics, human rights groups say that
the number of detainees could range from nearly 200,000 to millions.
re-education through labour was so closely associated with political
persecution, because conditions in the camps are so horrific,
and because there have been decades of pressure for China to abandon
this system, we should take this as a positive step," said
Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based senior researcher for Human
also pledged to "accelerate" reform of the hukou system,
essentially a bureaucratic knot tying hundreds of millions of
migrant workers to their rural hometowns. "The country will
relax overall control over farmers settling in towns and small
cities, and relax restrictions on settling in medium-sized cities
in an orderly manner," Xinhua reported.
called the controversial one-child policy, introduced in 1979
to keep population growth in check, outdated and cruel. In the
cities, it has created a demographic crunch, catching second-generation
only-children in a financial bind as they struggle to support
two parents and four grandparents. In the countryside, it has
fuelled a rise in sex-selective abortions, as many rural families
prefer boys to girls, and a host of human rights violations
abductions, forced abortions, extralegal detentions as
family planning authorities use extreme measures to keep birth
professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of
Nottingham, said that the government's unwillingness to abolish
the policy altogether suggests that it is most concerned with
its economic costs. "Until now, the growth of the Chinese
economy has been propelled by a demographic surplus, and that
has been turning into a demographic deficit," he said. "The
only way you can address the human rights abuses is to end the
this is good news one child is too lonely. I have a brother
and I was happy as a little girl even though our family was poor,"
said Hu Hongling, a 33-year-old woman from the rural Anhui province
who lives in Beijing with her husband. "My husband is an
only child and he sometimes feels lonely. It's difficult for him
to make friends." Hu is currently planning to have her first
child; she hopes someday to have two.
policy's relaxation is unlikely to lead to a population boom.
Many urbanites, already burdened by rocketing education and housing
costs, consider multiple children an exclusive province of the
rich. Zhang Xin, a 39-year-old media worker in Beijing, is newly
eligible to have two children he is an only child, his
wife has siblings, and they already have a seven-year-old son.
Yet "the new policy doesn't make a big difference for me,"
he said. "I don't think we could afford another child, in
terms of time and financial pressure."
report detailed a number of less dramatic reforms, including promises
to explore ways of setting up an intellectual property court,
reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, and
"build a more impartial, sustainable social security system,
with an improved housing guarantee mechanism".
It was also
laced with a number of contradictions. While officials promised
to ensure "independent, fair use of judicial authority"
and uphold the country's constitution which promises freedom
of assembly and freedom of speech they also pledged to
"strengthen public opinion guidance and crack down on internet
crimes," suggesting that media and internet censorship policies
will remain in place.
know that rule of law has become more of a rhetorical constant
in Chinese language, and speaks to things that China finds important,
for example, internationalisation," said Rana Mitter, professor
of Chinese studies at Oxford University. "If you can show
genuine progress in fields such as criminal law, that will give
you more credibility in other areas, such as international finance."
"It's obvious but worth saying that this is, yet again, the
party making it clear that it is in no way going to relax its
grip on power. It doesn't suggest the greater liberalisation or
pluralisation of politics."
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