The "only child, two children policy" is expected to be adopted by the end of 2013 or early 2014, which means couples will be allowed to have two children if either parent is an only child, according to a source close to the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China.
Furthermore, experts have revealed that a more "courageous" plan is in discussion, namely an unlimited two-child policy to be adopted in 2015 when China's 12th Five-Year Plan comes to an end.
Professor Zhai has proposed a "three step program" that has reportedly gained the support of many high-profile officials. According to his proposal, from 2011 onwards, northeast China and Zhejiang province were the first to be subjected to this new adaptation; then Beijing and Shanghai would follow suit. The third step, to be taken around 2015, would see all provinces in the nation adopt this new policy.
Since the 1980s, China's population has been strictly subjected to the nation's one-child policy. It restricts urban couples to having only one child, while allowing two children when both parents are only children themselves. In the rural areas, couples are often permitted to have two children if the first child is a daughter, which is called the "one-and-half child policy."
According to official data, before 2011, approximately 35.4 percent of China's population was subjected to a strict one-child limit, and 53.6 percent to the one-and-half child policy. 9.7 percent of Chinese couples, including ethnic groups and couples who are both only children themselves, were permitted to have two children. Only 1.3 percent -- mainly ethnic minorities of Tibetan and Xinjiang Uygur descent -- was allowed to have three or more children.
The one-child policy has always remained quite controversial. Fueled partly by public disgust with rising abortion levels, calls to revoke the policy are getting louder. The majority of the demographers hold that China will not see a population explosion without the policy; instead, it will embrace a balanced sex ratio and social conflicts are bound to be alleviated.
During the mid-1980s, the then National Population and Family Planning Commission chose four rural counties to carry out pilot programs. Couples in these pilot counties were unconditionally allowed to have two children. The programs' results showed that since the 1990s, one of these pilot counties -- Jiuquan city of Gansu Province -- has seen a reduction in fertility rate and population growth.
On the other hand, however, several high-profile officials are afraid that a major diminution of the birth control policy will increase the severity of problems that come with overpopulation, and will in turn put too much pressure on the environment, natural resources, urbanization, employment, per capita GDP and average living standards.