(CNN) -- After months of hints, China announced Friday it will relax its decades-long one-child policy and abolish labor camps in an effort to improve human rights, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Officials had said earlier both controversial policies were under review, but that did not diminish the force of Friday's announcement.
The biggest change could be the abolishment of the so-called "re-education through labor" system under which tens of thousands are imprisoned in China without trial.
Set up in 1957, the system allows the police to detain petty offenders -- such as thieves, prostitutes and drug addicts -- in labor camps for up to four years without a trial. China's judicial process itself is already controlled by the ruling Communists in a one-party regime. In a 2009 report to a United Nations human rights forum, the Chinese government acknowledged 320 such facilities nationwide holding 190,000 people. Other estimates have put the number of inmates much higher.
Critics have long accused of the authorities of misusing the camps to silence so-called trouble makers, including political dissidents, rights activists and Falun Gong members.
As part of the reforms, China said it will reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty.
Even those who know little about China have likely heard about its one-child policy. China's family planning laws require most families living in urban areas to have one child.
The policy will be slightly relaxed so that couples will be allowed to have two children if one of the parents was an only child, Xinhua reported. Currently, both parents must be sole children to be eligible for a second child.
The one-child policy, though applauded by many for slowing down China's population growth, has been widely criticized for resulting in forced abortions and hefty fines that are sometimes used to enforce it.
Some critics say the law hurts China's elderly, who typically rely on their children for support in old age, and even constrains economic growth as the working age population begins to decline.
"Since the policy now allows it, I will definitely have a second child," one 25-year-old woman in Beijing told CNN. "It's too lonely for a single child."
Another man, walking through the Beijing metro with his girlfriend, agreed.
"When I get married, I would prefer having two children as I'm the only child in my family. My childhood was a bit boring," he said.
A third commuter also praised the changes: "It's a great new policy. Raising three kids is a bit stressful, but two are just perfect."
CNN's David McKenzie, Peter Shadbolt, Katie Hunt and Feng Ke contributed to this report.