Under the new policy, families could have two children if one parent, rather than both parents, was an only child.By May 2014, 241,000 out of 271,000 applications had been approved.Children born in overseas countries were not counted under the policy if they do not obtain Chinese citizenship.
As of 2007, only 35.9% of the population were subject to a strict one-child limit.
52.9% were permitted to have a second child if their first was a daughter; 9.6% of Chinese couples were permitted two children regardless of their gender; and 1.6%—mainly Tibetans—had no limit at all.
The policy allowed many exceptions and ethnic minorities were exempt.
In 2007, 36% of China's population was subject to a strict one-child restriction, with an additional 53% being allowed to have a second child if the first child was a girl.
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With a group of mathematicians, Song determined the correct population of China to be 700 Beginning in 1980, official policy granted local officials the flexibility to make exceptions and allow second children in the case of "practical difficulties" (such as cases in which the father is a disabled serviceman) or when both parents are single children, Furthermore, families with children with disabilities have different policies and families whose first child suffers from physical disability, mental illness, or intellectual disability were allowed to have more children.
However, second children were sometimes subject to birth spacing (usually 3 or 4 years).
Han Chinese living in rural towns were also permitted to have two children.
The Family Planning Policy was enforced through a financial penalty in the form of the "social child-raising fee", sometimes called a "family planning fine" in the West, which was collected as a fraction of either the annual disposable income of city dwellers or of the annual cash income of peasants, in the year of the child's birth.
Although the fertility rate began to decline, the Chinese government observed the global debate over a possible overpopulation catastrophe suggested by organizations such as Club of Rome and Sierra Club.