China on Saturday formally endorsed an easing of the country's strict family planning policy to allow couples to have two children if either parent has no siblings.
The bi-monthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) passed a resolution on family planning, entrusting provincial congresses and their standing committees to make their own calls on implementation.
"They should amend local family planning regulations, or issue a special act, in time, based on evaluation of local demographic situation and in line with the law on population and family planning as well as this resolution," the resolution document said.
Family planning is written into the Constitution as an essential state strategy and any adjustment requires a resolution by the top legislature.
The changes come against a backdrop of steadily declining birth rates and changing demographics, reducing the working population. The birth rate is relatively low and was showing signs of falling further. The rate has dropped to between 1.5 and 1.6 since the 1990s, which means an average Chinese woman of child-bearing age gives birth to 1.5 to 1.6 children.
The working population began to drop in 2012 by 3.45 million annually, and it is likely to fall by 8 million each year after 2023, while the population aged 60 and above will reach 400 million and account for quarter of the population by the early 2030s, up from one seventh now.
The Chinese government estimates that since the introduction of the one-child policy in the 1970s, some 400 million births have been prevented in the world's most populous nation, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
But in the process, thousands of families have lost their only child. Children may be born with congenital problems or become disabled through illness or accident but the policy denied their parents a chance to have more offspring.
Briefing lawmakers on Monday, Li Bin, minister in charge of the commission, warned that if the policy persisted, the birth rate would continue to fall, leading to a sharp drop in population after reaching a peak.
There have always been several exceptions to the rules. A couple could have two children if neither