Mao said a fine-tuning plan has been sent to the State Council and the question now is whether any change will be introduced nationwide or if trial runs will be held in selected areas.
Yuan Xin, a professor in population studies at Nankai University in Tianjin, ruled out any drastic policy change. "Issues surrounding how many children a family can have will, for a long time, still be decided by the government rather than the family itself," he said.
Supporters of change say an adjusted policy in pilot areas will help avoid a possible birth peak in the event of a blanket policy change.
But Yuan said: "Even a nationwide change won't have a major impact on population development.
"In central and western China, or in the countryside, the impact of a relaxed policy could be quite limited because of a relatively low proportion of single children."
There are more than 140 million single children across the mainland, mostly in large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, the coastal provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang as well as northeastern areas, statistics from the commission show.
The rate in China stands at 1.6.
Experts say that with an eased policy the figure might rise to between 1.7 and 1.8, still a relatively low level for population growth.
Bribes probably a factor in resistance to giving up completely on One Child Policy
People in China sometimes pay brokers to bribe officials for documentation for additional children. It can cost up to $1,000 but is still much less than the official fine, which can be as high as 200,000 Renminbi, or more than $31,000.
In one case, he waited until his second child was born and registered both together as twins.
In 1983, 14 million women had abortions organised by family-planning committees (many of them coerced). In 2009, there were 6 million. The number has declined in recent years as local officials have more incentives to impose fines on extra births rather than prevent them altogether.
The fine for having extra children is known as the “social maintenance fee”. Mr He estimates the government has collected over 2 trillion yuan ($314 billion) in such fees since 1980. Failure to pay means the second “black” child cannot obtain a household-registration document, or hukou, which brings with it basic rights such as education. The amount of the fine varies from place to place. A husband and wife in Shanghai will each pay 110,000 yuan ($17,300), three times the city's average annual post-tax income, for a second child. The fine increases with income. The rich can shell out millions.
Another reason the hold of the one-child policy has been weakening is that it is so full of loopholes. In 2007 a family-planning official estimated that the one-child policy applied to less than 40% of the population. The right personal connections can secure discounts on fines. Couples in rural areas have long been allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl. Many other rules seem almost arbitrary. In Shanghai if either man or wife works in the fishing industry and has been going to sea for five years, the couple may have a second child without facing punishment.
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