The Chinese government announced Monday that couples can have up to three children amid a sharp fall in the country’s birth rate.

The May 31 announcement, described as a major policy shift, followed a meeting of the Politburo, the decision-making body of the Chinese Communist Party, chaired by President Xi Jinping.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics said earlier this month that the country recorded 12 million births in 2020, the lowest number reported since the 1960s. The figure means that China has a below replacement-level fertility rate of 1.3.

China recently unveiled the results of its latest once-a-decade census. The population grew to 1.41 billion, up by 5.38% over 10 years. This amounted to an average annual rise of 0.53%, lower than the figure of 0.57% recorded from 2000 to 2010.

In its latest five-year plan, the Chinese Communist Party said that it wanted to “optimize its birth policy” and “improve the quality of the population,” prompting concerns that the 2021-2025 blueprint had a eugenic dimension. China scholar Leta Hong Fincher commented: “What caught my eye was that they actually use specific language saying that China needs to ‘upgrade population quality.’ They need to ‘optimize their birth policy.’ They even use a term … which is effectively emphasizing the role of eugenics in population planning in China.”

Full story at Catholic News Agency.