BEIJING, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- China may relax its one-child policy as its population ages and a need for workers increases, a demographer in close contact with policymakers says.
The world's most-populous country, with more than 1.3 billion people, plans to start pilot projects in five low-birth-rate provinces next year to allow a second birth if at least one spouse is an only child, He Yafu tells USA Today.
Beijing, Shanghai and four other provinces will follow suit in 2012, and the policy will be repealed nationally by 2013 or 2014, he says.
The National Population and Family Planning Commission, which enforces the one-child policy, refused interview requests, USA Today says.
In 2008, China's top population official, Zhang Weiqing, minister of the family planning commission, said the policy would remain in place for roughly another decade.
In February the planning commission's deputy director said the policy would remain unaltered through 2015.
The policy -- one of the world's strictest, which authorities say has prevented 400 million births -- went into effect in 1979 after a multidecade population boom followed by mass death due to food shortages.
Most urban couples are limited to a single child, while farmers are often allowed to have two. Critics say the policy is coercive and has led to numerous abuses, including forced abortions, which are reported to continue in some areas.
But a growing need for more children to care for parents, plus a gender imbalance that will leave tens of millions of men without wives, are two arguments for relaxing the one-child policy, Siu Yat-ming, who researches Chinese family planning at Hong Kong Baptist University, tells USA Today.