It's nice to see this topic being discussed in a level-headed kind of way on here. Before I came to China, I, like most people had heard of the one-child policy, but was curious about exactly how it worked. Something that's key to understanding the whole policy is that every Chinese has a registration to a nominal work unit called a 'hukou'. The rules may vary locally depending on where the hukou is. You get different answers about the rules for ethnic minorities, but some of the things I've learned corroborate what others have said already:
- you can have more than one child as long as you pay a fine for the later child. This is effectively a form of economic rationing as the fine equates to 6 months average salary in the hukou's location.
- any mother working in a government work unit, must resign when she becomes pregnant with a second child unless she aborts it.
- there are plans to relax the policy in some areas where poverty has become less of a concern.
- in rural areas, if the first child is a girl, parents can have a second child after 7 years;
- two single children in a marriage may have a second child, if it is approved by the family planning bureau.
- only a very small number of hospitals are licensed to start the paper chain that leads to creating a hukou for a new child. Each set of tests need to be paid for. A combination of illiteracy or poverty could easily lead to a pregnant woman technically breaking the law.
I have mixed feelings about the whole thing, but don't feel I have any right to judge. If I look at Chinese I know, most appreciate what the policy has achieved and bemoan the social problems of a generation of single children more than the rigid brutality inherent in the system. What has become a headache as the population becomes mobile is the inconvenience of doing the administration and having to deal with officials who are in a position to abuse their position if they choose to - it doesn't mean they do, but...
The policy has not changed per se, but it's application has, although I've never read anything in the Western media to that end. If there's a travel lesson in all this, it's a reminder of how lazy, one-eyed and sensationalist the media can be anywhere in the world.