China has decided to end its decades-long one-child policy, the state-run Xinhua news agency reports.
Couples will now be allowed to have two children, it said, citing a statement from the Communist Party.
The controversial policy was introduced nationally in 1979, to slow the population growth rate.
It is estimated to have prevented about 400 million births. However concerns at China’s ageing population led to pressure for change.
Couples who violated the one-child policy faced a variety of punishments, from fines and the loss of employment to forced abortions.
Over time, the policy has been relaxed in some provinces, as demographers and
Introduced in 1979, the policy meant that many Chinese citizens – around a third, China claimed in 2007 – could not have a second child without incurring a fine
In rural areas, families were allowed to have two children if the first was a girl
Other exceptions included ethnic minorities and – since 2013 – couples where at least one was a single child
Campaigners say the policy led to forced abortions, female infanticide, and the under-reporting of female births
It was also implicated as a cause of China’s gender imbalance
What was China’s one-child policy?
The decision to allow families to have two children was designed “to improve the balanced development of population” and to deal with an aging population, according to the statement from the Community Party’s Central Committee carried by the official Xinhua News Agency (in Chinese) on Thursday.
Xuefei Zheng in the UK emails
Great news! I am a Chinese national married to an English man. I am an only child myself. My parents loved kids but they could only have me because of the threat of losing their jobs if they had more.
I felt lonely growing up by myself. My parents tried their best by having my cousins over and sending me to my cousins for a day but I always wished I had sisters and brothers.
Now my parents are over 50 and my grandparents are living with them. I want to be able to help my parents too but it will be hard to make them move all the way to the UK and give up their life and friends in China.
My husband is very understanding of the Chinese culture and we are working hard now to save money to begin our own family. If we are blessed, I will definitely have more than one child.
Read more experiences and reaction
Critics say that even a two-child policy will not boost the birth rate enough, the BBC’s John Sudworth reports.
And for those women who want more than two children, nor will it end the state’s insistence on the right to control their fertility, he adds.
“As long as the quotas and system of surveillance remains, women still do not enjoy reproductive rights,” Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch told AFP.
The announcement comes on the final day of a summit of the Chinese Communist Party’s policy-making Central Committee, known as the fifth plenum.
The party is also set to announce growth targets and its next five year plan.