The Chinese government is set to grant official papers to millions of people born illegally under the country's recently reversed one-child policy.
The changes to China's household registration system announced Wednesday will allow some 13 million unregistered people who are orphans, homeless, or born in violation of the strict family planning policy that only allowed couples to have one offspring, to access various social services such as healthcare and enroll in schools and colleges, according to Xinhua state news agency.
People who don't hold household registration papers, known as "hukou," have been denied basic rights or the ability to travel, marry, get a job, or even open a bank account. The government's announcement of a two-child policy in October portended an impending decision on how to retroactively address the millions of additional children who were born without authorization under the previous policy and denied registration.
The government has pledged to "fully resolve the hukou registration problem for unregistered people," according to a statement quoted in Xinhua on Wednesday. "It is a basic legal right for citizens to lawfully register for hukou.… It is also a premise for citizens to participate in social affairs, enjoy rights and fulfill duties."
The one-child policy was first implemented in 1979 as a method of curbing population growth, though the rules have been relaxed in recent years and certain regions and ethnic groups were exempt. The Chinese Communist Party believes it has prevented 400 million births across the past three decades.
Under the policy, households that had two or more children were unable to register the other sibling unless they paid a heavy fee, which many could not afford, especially those in poor rural areas. Currently, the government estimates that unregistered people make up around 1 percent of China's population of 1.3 billion.
The government granted partial relief to families in 2013 when it allowed parents who were both only children themselves to apply to have a second baby.
The changes to allow all households to have two children in October came as China looks for solutions to remedy its aging population. The decision was made as part of China's new Five-Year Plan, which will guide the country's economic policy through 2020. The plan, approved by the country's top legislative body, aims for more innovation in science and technology, "medium-high" economic growth, and a doubling of its 2010 GDP by the end of the decade.
On the same day that China announced its new household registration policy, it also reportedly approved plans to merge its two medical insurance schemes for urban and rural residents in order to provide more equal access to healthcare. Rural primary care currently lags far behind levels in major cities.
The Chinese government says that it offers health insurance to almost all of its citizens, but the schemes still often require patients to pay large amounts out of pocket. This can place a significant burden on families, especially when dealing with major diseases like cancer.