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China's reforms to ease one-child policy and abolish labor camps

China has released a raft of reform plans, promising sweeping changes to the country’s economy and social fabric. The Communist Party has said it will loosen its one-child policy and abolish labor camps.

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China to relax one-child rule

China's Communist Party released a far-reaching reform document Friday that vows to ease, among other things, its controversial one-child policy and abolish its labor camp system, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The planned changes were announced following a four-day conclave of the country's top leaders known as the Third Plenum.

The change to China's family-planning policy will allow couples have two children if one of the parents is a sole offspring, Xinhua said.

Currently, Chinese law restricts most couples to one child, with an exception allowing a second if both parents are only-children.

Brutally enforced

China introduced the policy in the late 1970s to control its huge population. At times it has been brutally enforced.

Critics argue that the one-child policy has contributed to the gender imbalance in China, where sex-specific abortions remain common. In 2012, almost 118 boys were born for every 100 girls.

"The birth policy will be adjusted and improved step by step to promote 'long-term balanced development of the population in China'," Xinhua reported, citing the decision.

Labor camps to be abolished

As part of policy shift, China's deeply unpopular labor camp system, known as "laojiao," will also be abolished.

Under the current system, people can be sent away for up to four years' "re-education" by a police panel, without a court appearance.

The system is largely used for petty offenders but is also blamed for widespread rights abuses by corrupt officials.

It system was introduced in 1957 as a faster method of handling minor offences. However, a 2009 United Nations report estimated that 190,000 Chinese were locked up in such facilities.

Economy stumbling

The changes come as the country seeks to unleash new sources of growth. Three decades of breakneck expansion have recently shown signs of stumbling.

Speculation about possible reform has mounted since China's new leadership under Xi Jinping took charge of the Communist party in November last year.

The reforms also include speeding up capital account convertibility, lifting residency restrictions in small cities and townships, integrating urban and rural social security systems and following through with an environmental tax.

hc/ipj (Reuters, AFP)

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