China on Monday relaxed its family planning policy, allowing couples to have up to three children, reported Reuters. The decision to increase the existing limit of two children was taken at a Politburo meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping.

Earlier, China had a one-child policy, which had been imposed in the late 1970s to control a population explosion. It was scrapped in 2016 to allow couples to have two children. However, experts believed that the two-child policy did not have the effect needed to counter the ageing problem.

The 2016 policy change was in response to an ageing problem in China and to improve the country’s population structure, according to the Hindustan Times. China has recently been grappling with a rapidly ageing population even as births have fallen significantly.

On Monday, the Politburo said that allowing three children will help improve China’s population structure, the ageing problem, and preserve the country’s human resource advantages, reported state-run Xinhua, a news agency. It also said that China will support couples who wish to have a third child.

The decision came after a Census, conducted every 10 years, showed that China’s population grew at its slowest rate in decades. In the last 10 years, the population rose by only 72 million, or 7.2 crore.

The average annual growth rate was 0.53% in the last 10 years. It was down from 0.57% between 2000 and 2010. This is the slowest growth rate in the country since 1953, when the census was first conducted.

The total population in Mainland China, or the area under the direct control of the People’s Republic of China, was at 1.41 billion, or 141 crore, as of November 1, 2020.

“…population is not just declining but also its demographic structure is deteriorating with a growing ageing population, will serve as an important reference for China’s population and economic policy adjustment as well as plans to put off retirement, which may come in the next year or two”, AFP quoted a state media on the census data.

The census showed that around 12 million, or 1.2 crore, babies were born in 2020, reported BBC. This was a decline from around 18 million, or 1.8 crore, children born in 2016.

Experts had earlier also warned that any impact of China’s population could have a large effect on the world. “China’s economy has grown very quickly, and many industries in the world rely on China,” said Dr Yi Fuxian, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The scope of the impact of a population decline would be very wide.”