CHINA - The National Health and Family Planning Commission moved on Tuesday to allay concerns in media reports last week that China will relax its family planning policy by 2015 to allow more couples to have two children.
The commission said no timetable has yet been determined and instead said the new plan will be carried out "at the proper time".
The commission, however, did confirm media reports that an update is on its way. In the new plan, couples will be allowed to have a second child if at least one parent has no siblings.
Currently, the policy permits couples to have two children if both parents are the only children in their families. It is one of several exceptions to the rule in which most couples have been restricted to just one child since the late 1970s.
In most rural areas, for example, families can apply to have a second child if their first-born is a daughter.
An update to the policy makes economic sense, because allowing more couples to have a second child could stem potential labour shortages in the future.
In last week's media reports, the policy update would first be implemented in Heilongjiang and Zhejiang provinces and later in Beijing and Shanghai.
Commission spokesman Mao Qun'an said on Friday that the new plan was still under consideration by the central government and that the country would stick to its family planning policy over the long run.
He made clear that researching reform plans primarily concerned with the number of children a couple is allowed to have is a major priority on the commission's working agenda.
But Lu Jiehua, a professor of social demographics at Peking University who has done research for the commission, said that the "proper time" is probably coming this year.
"Regions with a relatively higher proportion of (families with only one child) and a higher urbanization level are most likely to introduce the relaxation first," he said.
He added that the family planning policy has thus far been implemented effectively.
Preparatory procedures, including revisions to regional family planning rules, will first be carried out ahead of the nationwide update, said Professor Mu Guangzong of the Population Research Institute of Peking University.
Lu said the opinions of provincial governments will be considered in implementing procedures.
Over the long term, he said, "decisions surrounding child-bearing, such as the size of the family, will not be determined by the family".
Feng Yonglin, a middle school teacher in Beijing, said she couldn't wait for the government to relax the policy.
Feng, an only child born in 1977 and the mother of a 6-year-old girl, said, "At my age, it will be harder to conceive a baby, and I hope I'll still be able to".
But Lu noted that the government is researching measures to avert a sudden baby boom over a short period of time, which could create tighter competition in future jobs or for university admission.
He also urged the government to create more policies and measures in favour of families who abide by the current family planning policy.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission also announced on Tuesday that there will be favourable measures for families that adhere to the current policy in respect to elderly care and medical care services.