Starting early next year, Chinese couples are expected to be allowed to have a second child if either the father or mother is themselves an only child, said a senior family planning official on Saturday.
Yang Wenzhuang, director of the family planning instruction department of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, made the remarks during an interview with China Central Television.
"The latest relaxation of the family planning policy will probably be implemented early next year after local administrations finish preparations and local legislatures give the final pass by amending the regulation," he said.
Under previous family planning rules, in urban areas, couples could only have two children if both the father and mother were only children.
The Third Plenary Sessionof the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee, which ended on Nov 12, decided to relax the policy by allowing couples to have a second child if one of the parents is the only child in his or her family.
Meanwhile, Yang urged education and healthcare institutions to prepare properly to meet the rising demand for services resulting from an increased birthrate after the policy is implemented.
"Communication and coordination among related administrations needs to be further strengthened to ensure that expectant mothers and newborn babies will get the quality services and care they need," he said.
According to Yang, it is up to local administrations to arrange the exact timescale for implementing the policy, according to specific circumstances.
"But there shouldn't be a major time gap in introducing the new rule from region to region," he said.
Moreover, Yang asked willing couples to carefully plan the timing of their second baby, stating that "there is no need to rush as the policy will be a long-standing one on the mainland".
Previous assessment work conducted by the commission found that the new policy would see an estimated 15 million to 20 million couples eligible for a second child.
About 50 to 60 percent of such couples are willing to have a second child, according to a recent poll by the commission.
According to Yang, about 2 million more babies are expected to be born each year due to the policy relaxation, but he says the increase "will not cause major pressure on healthcare, education and other public resources".
In the long run, the new policy is expected to help facilitate family development, promote happiness and increase the ability of families to care for the elderly, he said.
Analysts said the reform comes at the right time to help China address the issue of an increasing population imbalance, whereby the proportion of elderly people is rising relative to younger generations.
By the end of last year, China had about 194 million people aged 60 and older on the mainland, making it the country with the largest elderly population in the world, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China.
More importantly, "the new policy better meets and respects public expectations", Yang added.
Zhai Zhenwu, director of the School of Sociology and Population Studies at Renmin University of China, said that China's family planning policy had always been dynamic and subject to adjustments according to new situations.
"The latest change, the most substantial one in the past 30 years, will lay the foundations for future efforts to further fine-tune the country's birth rules," said Zhai.