Loosens family planning restrictions

China on Saturday formally abolished its controversial labour camps “re-education” system and loosened family planning restrictions, as the country’s Parliament rubber-stamped two key reform measures unveiled by the new leadership.

A resolution adopted by the National People’s Congress (NPC), the top legislative body, said effective Saturday, those serving reeducation through labour sentences would be set free. Under the reeducation through labour system, accused can be held for up to four years without a trial.

While initially introduced in the 1950s to hold those charged with minor crimes, critics of the system say it had been subsequently expanded to subvert the law by effectively imprisoning citizens without any recourse to a fair hearing. Law enforcement agencies have often sentenced citizens petitioning higher authorities to have their grievances heard to reeducation through labour to silence them.

As of this year, around 1.6 lakh people were held in some 260 labour camps. It still remains unclear what will become of the camps and those detained. Chinese media reports said some facilities will be turned into drug rehabilitation centres offering “compulsory” treatment.

The NPC on Saturday also passed a resolution loosening family planning restrictions. The move will allow couples to have a second child if either parent is an only child.

Under the earlier family planning policy, couples could have two children only if both parents were from one-child families. In rural areas, couples can have two children if their first born is a girl.

The resolution does not mean an end to China’s vast family planning regime, which continues to be enforced by a powerful bureaucracy and remains a source of billions of Yuan to the authorities from fines.

The loosening of the policy does, however, reflect the government’s anxieties about declining birth rates and a shrinking labour force. The working population will fall by 8 million every year after 2023, the government said, with those above 60 years of age reaching 400 million and accounting for one-quarter of the population in the next two decades.

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