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Another exception to China's one child policy
Publication Date : 06-12-2013
As China’s demographics turn “olive-shaped”, there are calls for further adjustments
Last month, the Chinese government introduced an exception to its one-child policy in a move heralded as a significant relaxation of the policy.
The new change will allow couples to have a second child if one of them is an only child. The country’s Population and Family Planning Law, which is commonly referred to as the one-child policy, encourages citizens to get married and bear children at a later age and advocates each couple to have only one child.
However, it allows room for exception with details stipulated by the respective local governments.
In Beijing, for example, couples who are both an only child, remarried but only have one child, or adopted their first child after they were diagnosed as infertile, are allowed to have a second child.
Exceptions can also be made for poor families who farm for a living in the mountains and whose first-born is a girl, ethnic minorities who move to the city from border areas and have obtained permission from the family planning office prior to their relocation, and rural couples in which case one of them is a handicapped soldier or can no longer work due to a disability.
Rural couples whose husbands have brothers, but only one of them is fertile and the rest do not adopt, are also exempted from the one-child limit.
Male rural citizens who married a woman with no brothers and have pledged in written form to take care of the woman’s parents also qualify for a second child.
The national policy specifies that couples who volunteer to have only one child in their lifetime will be awarded the “Certificate of Honour for Single-Child Parents,” which translates into rewards and special offers.
For instance, parents in Beijing will receive a monthly reward of 10 yuan (US$1.64) until the child turns 18.
On the other hand, citizens who have broken the rule will be required to pay a “social maintenance fee”.
The amount is decided based on the city’s annual average per capita income.
National Development and Reform Commission’s academic committee secretary-general Zhang Yansheng commented in a press briefing that it is high time to adjust the policy.
Speaking from his own experience, he said raising an only child is a challenging task.
“She sees me and my wife as her friends but parents can never quite be the friends children need,” he said.
While acknowledging that the single-child policy has saved the country from serious consequences – the population of China would now be 1.7 billion if it were never introduced – Zhang said the current demographic pattern calls for a change in the policy.
“The demographics take the shape of an olive, with more than 200 million people who are aged 60 and above. If we do not reform the policy now, the burden on the younger generation to take care of their parents will become very huge in the future,” he said, adding that the policy must be adjusted, be it for economic or social purposes or to ensure the continuity of the Chinese nation.
Critics said the controversial one-child policy has contributed to the labour shortage in China, gender ratio imbalance and other negative side effects.
In a news report on acclaimed film director Zhang Yimou violating the policy, The Guardian said the unjust enforcement of the single-child policy has generated public anger.
It said many wealthy urban families evade the policy by giving birth abroad or paying reduced fines.
Earlier this week, Zhang admitted that he had breached the one-child policy, ending months of speculation. He and his wife Chen Ting have two sons and one daughter.
Besides apologising to the media and public for the negative influences he brought, Zhang agreed to be investigated by the Family Planning Committee of Binhu district in Wuxi, Jiangsu province.
While the committee has responded with a statement to announce that investigation into Zhang’s case has begun, certain people who are against the family planning policy opined that Zhang should not apologise for having more than one child.
Yang Zhizhu, who made headlines in 2010 when he attempted to “sell himself into slavery” to settle the fine for his second child, criticised Zhang for offering the apologies.
“(Giving birth to a child) is nothing to be sorry for or regret. It only implies that your child should not exist in this world,” he wrote on his Weibo site.
Media reports predicted that Zhang could possibly be fined as much as 240 million yuan (US$39.4 million) for breaking the law.
Peking University professor Liang Jianzhang rubbished the rationale behind the social maintenance fee, which is explained as compensation to society for taking up public resources.
“A child is a nation’s future and raising a child is essentially an investment in the future. While the kids will use the public resources before they come of age, they will create more of these resources in the future,” he said in his column on Business news portal Caixin Online.
Liang pointed out that the shrinking population of Chinese children has forced schools to close in both urban cities and rural areas.
On the other hand, people are wondering how Zhang registered the hukou (household registration) for his children when the couple did not obtain permission to give birth.
The three children, who were born in 2001, 2004 and 2006, were born out of wedlock as Zhang and Chen only registered their marriage in September 2011.
The issues of special privileges and selective enforcement were raised.
“Every citizen is equal before the law. No one should be treated differently because of his identity or wealth,” said a commentary in The Beijing News.
“If certain famous people flout the law, they are only showing off the special privileges they enjoy.”