China on Friday said it would relax family planning restrictions — the first such move in more than six years — and abolish the controversial “reeducation through labour” system, as the Communist Party of China (CPC) released a “road map” detailing new measures agreed at this week’s key reforms meeting.

Under the new rules, couples can now have two children if one parent is an only child. China’s family planning restrictions — widely known as the “one-child policy,” though the measures include a complicated system of regulations — were enforced in the late 1970s, permitting couples in cities to have only one child and those in the countryside to have a second child if their first born was a girl. The rules were last relaxed in 2007, when the government said couples could have a second child if both parents were only children.

While the government says the policy prevented at least 300 million additional births over the past three decades, critics say the widely unpopular restrictions have infringed upon fundamental human rights. Violators face heavy fines, which most cannot afford, and innumerable violations of the law, such as forced abortions, have been committed on account of the policy, as local officials aimed to meet prescribed targets.

Friday’s document, titled the “decision on major issues concerning comprehensive and far-reaching reforms,” followed the November 9-12 meeting of the Central Committee, the 376-member leadership body.

The four-day session marked the third sitting, or plenum, of the newly selected leadership, which took over in November last year under President Xi Jinping. While the focus of the meeting was agreeing on a blueprint for economic reforms for the next decade, Friday’s document highlighted a number of political and social reforms that may be taken forward.

The document said the government would end the controversial “reeducation through labour system,” under which suspects can be held for as long as four years without a trial.

Income gap

Two issues that have received prominent attention ahead of this week’s reforms meeting were the widening income gap and reforming the wealthy State-owned Enterprises (SOEs).

Without specifying a timeline, the document said reforms of the household registration or “hukou” system, which prevents rural migrants from accessing social benefits when they move to cities, would be taken forward “to help farmers become rural residents.” Controls will be relaxed in towns and small cities, while restrictions in medium-sized cities would be relaxed “in an orderly manner.”

The document also suggested that farmers would be given more rights to their land, stating that farmers will be granted “rights to possess, use, benefit from and transfer their contracted land.”

Under current laws, rural land is owned collectively, and farmers can only lease their land.

The restrictions on rural residents’ access to social benefits and on selling farmland have been seen as worsening China’s income gap, which is today the widest in the People’s Republic’s history.

On reforming SOEs, which have emerged as breeding grounds for corruption among the Party elite and interest groups, the document said “market-oriented reform” would be promoted to “break monopolies and further competition” and to better allocate resources.

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