The Chinese government has put an end to a longstanding policy that limited most urban couples to one child, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Under the new policy, couples will be allowed to have up to two children. The decision was announced at the end of a four-day meeting of China's ruling Communist Party, which convened this week to draw up the country's next five-year plan for economic and social development.
The family planning policy was originally implemented in 1979 as a measure to control population, though certain regions and groups were exempt from the law, and Beijing has loosened it in recent years. In 2013, the government announced that couples could have two children if either of the two parents were only children. Previously, the exception only applied to couples who were both only children, and only in some cities.
The Chinese government has come under increased pressure to abolish the policy as the country's population has aged. People over 60 now make up more than 13 percent of the population, and its working-age population declined for the third straight year in 2014.
Human rights groups have also criticized the law for fueling China's skewed gender gap. As in other Asian countries, traditional bias in China has long favored having sons. According to recent statistics, there are about 118 boys born in China for every 100 girls, compared to a global ratio of 103 to 107. In January, Chinese health officials described its gender gap as "the most serious and prolonged" in the world.