China to End Prison Labor Camps and Ease1-Child Policy

November 15, 2013

HONG KONG — The Chinese government will ease its one-child family size restrictions and abolish re-education through labor camps, significantly curtailing two policies that for decades have defined the state’s power to control citizens’ lives, the Communist Party said on Friday.

The changes were announced in a party decision that also laid out ambitious proposals to restructure the economy by encouraging greater private participation in finance, encouraging market competition in key economic sectors and promising farmers better property protection and compensation for confiscated land.

Senior party officials, led by President Xi Jinping, endorsed the raft of 60 reform proposals at a four-day Central Committee conference that ended Tuesday, but the decision was released days later.

For months, economists and party analysts have speculated about the economic shifts that could be introduced by the meeting. But the planned changes to population policy and punishment – two areas where reforms have been debated, and delayed, for years – gave the decision significance well beyond the economy.

For decades, most urban couples have been restricted to having one child. That has been changing slowly in some cities, which have had rules on the books that couples can have two children if both parents are single children. That policy will be further relaxed.

“Launch implementation of a policy that when the husband or wife is a single child, the couple may have two children,” said the decision, which was released by the official news agency, Xinhua. “Steadily adjust and improve family planning policies.”

The party leaders confirmed an announcement made earlier this year, and then abruptly retracted, that they intend to abolish re-education through labor, which since the 1950s has empowered police authorities to imprison people without any real judicial review. Experts and officials have debated whether to adjust or abolish the system of camps since the 1980s. Now abolition is closer.

“Abolish the system of re-education through labor,” said the decision, which proposed expanding community correction to partly replace the system. The document gives no date for achieving that, or for introducing the changes to family planning policy.

But the bulk of the Central Committee decision dwelt on economic changes intended to rejuvenate growth by encouraging private investment, more efficient use of bank capital and encouraging farmers to lease their land into larger, more viable holdings.

“Reform of the economic system is the focal point of comprehensively deepening reform,” said the decision. “The core issue is properly handling the relationship between the government and the market.”