China sends mixed message on one-child policy

Posted: 30 September 2007

Mixed messages are coming out of China over its controversial one-child policy. While in part of Central China fines for wealth couple evading the family planning laws are to be raised, the authorities in East China's Zhejiang Province have loosened their one-child policies to encourage couples to have their second child earlier to ease the problems created by an ageing society.

In a Central China province where almost 2,000 officials and celebrities have been exposed for breaking the country's family planning laws fines are to be raised on wealthy couples who have unauthorized children.

The Standing Committee of Hunan Provincial People's Congress, the local legislative body, has agreed to amend the law imposing imposing a standard fine equal to two to six times the offenders' incomes for the previous year.

Offenders will be now be fined three times their annual income - on top of the standard fine - for each child after the first unauthorized birth. Those who had an illegitimate child would face an additional fine six to eight times of the income of the previous year, according to the amendment. Local family planning authorities have said that the current penalties are too low for well-off people.

Officials exposed

The current regulations in Hunan, which took effect on January 1, 2003, impose a fine equal to double the offenders' incomes for the previous year and triple for every child after the first unauthorized birth.

In addition, the amended regulations stipulate that the offenders will not be employed by governmental departments, be barred from promotion in governmental organisations and state-owned businesses, and be granted any honorary title.

At least 1,968 officials in Hunan were found breaching the nation's family planning law between 2000 and 2005, according to the provincial family planning commission.

Also exposed by the commission were 21 national and local lawmakers, 24 political advisors, 112 entrepreneurs and six senior intellectuals.

Provincial governor Zhou Qiang in April asked local authorities to "expose the celebrities and high-income people who violate the family planning policy and have more than one child."

The move has also been adopted in East China's Zhejiang Province, and in Central China's Henan Province, the nation's most populous region. Officials belonging to the Communist Party of China will be barred from promotion if they have more children than the law allows.

China's family planning policy, which encourages late marriage and late child-bearing, limits most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two, has been credited with preventing more than 400 million births since it was introduced in the late 1970s to curb population growth.

The policy was upgraded to the Population and Family Planning Law in December 2001 and came into effect in September 2002.

Three children

A survey conducted by the national family planning commission showed that the majority of celebrities and rich people have two children, with 10 per cent of them having three.

In Hunan, officials estimate 30 million births have been prevented due to the policy. As the seventh most populous province in China, the Hunan provincial government has vowed to keep its population within 70.1 million by 2010.

As early as 2002, China's southern Guangdong Province pioneered measures to control the high birth rate among rich urban families. Offenders have to pay a fine equal to three to six times the local average annual income.

The Organization Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and 10 other departments jointly issued a circular on September 14, stipulating that Chinese government officials and Communist Party members will be barred from promotion if they have more children than the law allows.

Ageing society

Meanwhile, the family planning authorities in east China's Zhejiang Province have loosened their one-child policies to encourage couples to have their second child earlier in the hope of easing the pressures created by an ageing society.

Couples eligible to have second babies, including those who are both only children and those from ethnic minority groups, have been required to have their second child at least four years after their first in recent years.

According to the new policy, couples eligible to have a second child can choose when they want to have it, said Zhang Wenbiao, head of Zhejiang Provincial Population and Family Planning Commission.

He said the old policy did not help to tackle the unbalanced age structure of the population in Zhejiang. "Belated delivery may also be detrimental to the health of women and their babies as more women in urban areas are getting married in their thirties," he added.

Over the next few decades, the province will see a rapid increase in its aging population and a steady decrease in the number of the population of working age, said Zhang.

He said the new policy would not add to the province's gross population. The birth rate will remain around 1.5, within the country's requirement of 1.8, he said.

Zhejiang had more than 6.7 million senior citizens at the end of 2006, accounting for almost 15 per cent of its population. The majority of the working people in the province are aged 40.9 on average, which represents an aging tendency, according to the statistics from the provincial academy of social sciences.

Source: China Daily