For more than three decades, China has enforced a one-child policy meant to tamp down on population growth. Today marks a big change. Per the official Xinhua News Agency, China's Communist Party has replaced the one-child policy with a two-child policy, meaning any couple in China can have two children if they choose, reports the BBC. How exactly the change might transform the country isn't yet clear. The BBC reports as many as 90% of couples already eligible to have a second child under a law relaxed in 2013—which eliminates the rule if the mother or father is an only child—haven't had a second, meaning the government's hope of boosting births by 2 million per year wasn't met. Still, President Xi Jinping hopes the latest change will help create more "balanced growth," as Bloomberg puts it.
The change comes after a secretive gathering of the Communist Party Central Committee that focused on drawing up the country's next five-year plan. The AP observes that "in recent years, it has been unusual for such plenary sessions to result in major decisions." But 30% of the population is now over 50, and with so few children around, half of primary and secondary schools have closed in China over the last 15 years. Overall, it's believed that the one-child policy has prevented some 400 million births—including through forced abortions—since it was adopted nationally in 1979. "I did fall pregnant a second time, but I had an abortion," a grandmother tells the BBC. "You either go willingly or the government comes for you." (Read more China stories.)