China Could Overthrow One-Child Rule

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The Chinese government is beginning to rethink its famed one-child limit as it begins to lift the restriction in five provinces with low birth rates.

The pilot projects, which are set to begin in 2011, allow for a second child per family if at least one spouse is an only child. USA Today reports that Beijing, Shanghai and four other provinces will follow suit in 2012, with nationwide adoption of the new policy expected by 2013 or 2014. In 1979, China’s one-child policy was introduced after decades of huge population boom followed by mass death due to resulting food shortages. The policy, which has prevented 400 million births, restricted the country’s ethnic Han majority to have only one child per family (exempting most ethnic minorities) and has remained nearly the same since, though a few exceptions have been made. (Some rural farm families have been allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl.)

(More on TIME: A Brief History of China’s One-Child Policy)

A wide gender imbalance, as well as the need for more children to care for parents, has likely influenced the government’s tight control on the country’s birthrate. (Even though prenatal sex screening was banned in 1994, female infanticide is still in practice because of the cultural preference for boys.) A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2009 found that China has some 32 million more boys than girls under the age of 20.

(Photo Essay: Re-Enacting The Korean War)