State media in China has announced that the country's strict one-child policy is to be relaxed. With an increasingly aged population the move could be too little and too late.
Friday the government in China announced a variety of changes. The Independent reports: "China will ease its family planning policies and abolish a controversial labour camp system, in a series of major reforms announced on Friday by the ruling Communist Party of China."
The reforms are in a "22,000-word document released three days after the Third Plenum meeting of the Communist leadership in Beijing".
Change has been gradually underway in China. Chinese President Xi Jinping [Unlink] promised to abolish the "re-education through labour" system when he first came to power, and the system is being wound down.
China introduced the one-child policy in the late 1970s, at a time when China's population was rapidly increasing. The one-child policy was heavy-handed, locking the stable door after the horse had bolted.
China was still a communist country in the late 70s and, in name at least it still is, however today it is gradually relinquishing its socialist beliefs. That is relinquishing enough to forge trade deals with its former enemies in the west.
The one-child policy has been strictly enforced by successive Chinese authorities causing heartbreak for many couples. Forced abortions were reported in some cases.
Before we applaud the changes to the one-child policy though there is a catch. It will only apply to a couple to have two children if one of the parents is an only child. Authorities claim that the change is necessary to "balance the population".
According to BBC News some cities in China have already allowed changes to the one-child policy. The cities involved have allowed the birth of a second child when both parents have been only children. In rural areas the one-child policy has been less rigorously enforced.
The controversial one child policy placed more value on boys than girls. If the first-born is a boy no more children are allowed, except in certain groups which are exempt. If the first-born is a girl the parents are allowed to undertake a second pregnancy in the hope that it will be a boy.
Unlawful killing and abortions of female babies followed in some cases. Ultra sound clinics, which can tell the would be mother the sex of her unborn child, are not strictly allowed but operate in China. If the baby is not the right sex the parents will take whatever action they feel is needed.
In 2012 a BBC report claimed that by 2050 25% of China's population will be aged over 65. In 1950 life expectancy in China was 44 but, with modern health and life improvements, it has increased.
Pundits predict this will leave people of the new generation caring for more than one generation of aged family members.
As the State and families opted for boys over girls, with the one-child policy, it will also leave a shortage of partners, wives and mothers for young men.
Perhaps that also explains the change of heart.