Story highlights

China has ended its one-child policy after 35 years

The policy has exacerbated a traditional preference for sons

And led to forced abortions and other rights violations

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Faced with a surging population, 35 years ago China attempted to put the brakes on procreation by implementing a controversial policy limiting most couples to just one child.

On Thursday, China abandoned the one-child policy, saying it will allowing all married couples to have two children. Here are five things to know about China’s one-child policy:

The policy was universally unpopular

The one-child policy has extracted a huge toll on many Chinese.

Millions of women have been forced to end their “illegal pregnancies” – and since 2000, such abortions have numbered about 7 million a year, according to China’s Health Ministry.

Human Rights Watch says that “coercive measures” are often used to end and prevent pregnancies – late-term abortions and the forced insertion of IUDs.

In June 2012, 22-year-old Feng Jianmei was forced to have an abortion in the seventh month of her pregnancy, eliciting a rare public apology after her case sparked nationwide outrage.

Her husband Deng Jiyuan, a 29-year-old farmer, said he was trying to secure a birth permit up to the last minute but could not afford to pay the fine of 40,000 yuan ($6,300) demanded by the officials.

“I’m angry and want justice,” Deng told CNN at the time. “They forced her to abort our seven-month-old child – do they deserve to be called Communist Party officials who served the people?”

READ MORE: Is China’s policy change too little, too late?

It’s created a massive surplus of young men

The policy has exacerbated a traditional preference for sons.

The spread of cheap ultrasound, which enables sex determination in mid-pregnancy and easy access to termination, has led to the widespread abortion of female fetuses.

According to the China Statistics Bureau, there are now 34 million more men than women.

These men, often described as bare branches because they won’t “bear fruit,” face an uncertain future due to the lack of potential female partners.

China never had a truly nationwide one-child policy

China’s population control policies have always varied within provinces and region by region.

In rural areas, couples have been allowed a second child if their first born was a daughter, and parents from China’s 55 ethnic minorities have also been permitted to have more than one child.

And money has allowed richer Chinese to evade the policy.

Famously, award-winning director Zhang Yimou paid a $1.2 million fine in 2014 and apologized for his three “excessive” children.

But until the policy was first relaxed last year, nearly two-thirds of all Chinese couples were allowed to have just one child – giving rise to a generation of “Little Emperors” doted on by mom and dad and two sets of grandparents.

Don’t count on a baby boom

China is hoping the new policy will help deal counteract a rapidly growing elderly population – but it’s not clear that couples will take the plunge.

A decision to relax the controversial policy in January 2014, allowing married couples to have a second baby if the mother or father was an only child themselves, was widely welcomed.

Officials estimated that an extra two million babies would be born as a result – but the expected baby boom failed to materialize.

Many parents feel like Beijing resident Eason, a father of a three-year-old who fears the financial burden another baby would bring.

“Raising our only child is already taking up a very significant part of our expenditure,” he told CNN earlier this year. “Having another baby would cost more for their education, housing, and such.”

“Taking care of only one child is very energy-consuming for the two of us and our parents.”

The policy’s success was limited

China says the policy has reduced births by 400 million — but this number is questioned by population experts.

On the 30th anniversary of the policy in 2010, Wang Feng at the Brookings Institution and Cai Yong of the University of Northern Carolina wrote that the policy only hastened a decline in fertility that was already underway and may have happened anyway.

In countries without a forceful and costly policy as China’s, they said the birth rate had declined with similar trajectories and magnitude.

South Korea, for instance, had a fertility level similar to China’s in 1979, at 2.9 children per woman. In 2008, it dropped to 1.2.

China’s is thought to be below 1.5.