Beijing: China on Monday initiated steps to "adjust" its controversial `one-child` family planning policy to address serious demographic challenges and allow millions of couples to have two children in the world`s most populous nation.
A bill was tabled in Parliament which seeks to allow couples to have two children if either of them is an only child, considered the most significant liberalisation of China`s strict one-child policy in nearly three decades.
The State Council, or China`s cabinet, submitted a bill to the Standing Committee of the National People`s Congress (NPC), top legislature, "to adjust the country`s family planning policy," the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The State Council argued the need to adjust the family planning policy of China in the face of a steadily declining birth rate and changing demographic structure, it said.
China`s birth rate has remained relatively low and showed a tendency for further reduction. The rate has dropped to between 1.5 and 1.6 since the 1990s, which means one Chinese woman of child-bearing age gives birth to 1.5 to 1.6 children on average, according to the bill.
"If China continues the current family planning policy, the birth rate would continue reducing and lead to a sharp drop of the total population after reaching the peak," said Li Bin, minister in charge of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, when elaborating the bill to lawmakers.
"It is the right time to do it as the low birth rate is stable, the working population is still large and the burden to support the elderly is relatively light," she said.
China`s ruling Communist Party had announced last month that it would take steps to loosen its one-child-policy, which has been in place since 1979.
The measure, which restricts couples in urban areas to one-child and rural areas to two children, has been one of the most controversial social policies. The one-child policy already exempts rural dwellers and ethnic minorities.
China`s working population began to drop in 2012 by 3.45 million annually, and it is likely to reduce by 8 million annually after 2023, according to the bill.
The population aged 60 and above will reach 400 million and account for one-fourth of the total population in the early 2030s, up from one-seventh now.
To adapt to the new circumstances and meet people`s expectations, the country, which has a population of over 1.3 billion, has to adjust its family planning policies, Li said.
The policy adjustment now will also pave the way for the country to allow all couples to have two children when conditions are ready, she added.
The State Council suggested that provincial people`s congresses and their standing committees amend local family planning regulations or adopt special acts after careful evaluation of local demographic situations and risks of policy changes, the bill said.
Meanwhile, curbing the explosive growth of its population will be a top priority for the Beijing municipal government, Mayor of the Chinese capital Wang Anshun has said.
"To resolutely control the population`s excessive growth is the key to solving multiple problems, such as traffic and environmental problems," said Wang yesterday.
Since 2000, Beijing`s permanent population has increased by an average of nearly 600,000 annually to reach 20.69 million at the end of 2012, far exceeding the previously planned target of keeping the population at 18 million by 2020.
The population of Beijing is about 2.6 times that of London and 2.5 times that of New York. The metropolis faces traffic jams, strained resources supply, and environmental pollution.
Beijing`s population growth has seen a downward trend since 2011. Permanent residents in Beijing increased by 507,000 in the one-year period since the end of 2011.