Photo by Jin Ke
This has also led to a double standard in how the policy is applied to wealthy as opposed to middle-income and poorer citizens. For example, victims of forced sterilizations and abortions, officially illegal but frequently used methods for population control, are primarily poor, while the rich can, for the most part, easily shoulder the fines associated with multiple births. “In some localities, the fine is determined so arbitrarily that you can bargain with officials for the ‘best deal,’” said Wu, “In localities where fines are comparatively low, the authorities even use this fact as an incentive to migrants.” The authorities’ focus on the financial benefits of the One Child Policy, rather than population control, has severely dented its intended impact. In some localities, governments are intentionally lax about preventing unlawful births in order to raise revenue. Population growth targets are met simply by fudging the numbers reported to Beijing. This is reflected in the discrepancy in the statistics provided by two different agencies charged with monitoring birth rates in Guangdong province. According to Guangdong’s Health and Family Planning Commission, total fines collected in 2012 for birth control policy violations amounted to 1.46 billion yuan (US$241m). This amount was 44 percent lower than that published by the province’s Finance Bureau, which totaled 2.61 billion yuan (US$340m). According to Wu, as the provincial HFPC calculates the number of unlawful additional births according to the amount of fines collected, their low official figure indicates massive underreporting of One Child Policy violations.
In a 2011 interview, Ma Jiantang, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, admitted that the 2010 census showed that more than 13 million people were not accounted for in China’s hukou or household registration system. Those who violate the One Child Policy, along with their offspring, are routinely denied rights afforded to those reg-
NEWSCHINA I March 2014
istered in this system, which works partly to determine welfare provision as well as an internal visa restricting people’s right to work to their official birthplace. On paper, the Chinese laws stipulate that all children born to Chinese citizens are entitled to a hukou. This allows them to obtain a national ID card, passport, driver’s license and access to public services. In reality, however, parents can only have their child registered by either presenting a “birth permit,” a certificate issued by the family planning authorities allowing a couple to have another child, or paying up. With 13 million people, most of them from poor families, excluded from the hukou system at birth, the One Child Policy has effectively denied citizenship to one percent of the nation’s native-born population. In his interview with Xinhua, Zhang Yimou said that his children only obtained hukou in 2011, when the authorities in Jiangsu Province liberalized their household registration policies. Prior to that, Zhang claimed he had to pay a hefty fee in order to have his children enrolled in school. For millionaires like Zhang, school fees are a minor nuisance. To impoverished families, they can be ruinous. In one case in June, 2013, Cai Yanqiong, a 16-year-old girl born in violation of the One Child Policy to parents who could not afford to pay the social maintenance fee, attempted suicide after being denied access to any local high schools as she did not possess a hukou. For years, legal experts and human rights activists have called on the government to scrap the “legitimate birth” requirement of the hukou system. To date, only Fujian, Hebei, Jiangsu and Sichuan provinces have done so. “It is simply unlawful to deprive people of their basic rights to public services merely because their parents have violated the [family planning] law,” said Peking University professor Lu Jiehua. As the Chinese government approved the easing of the One Child Policy to allow couples where either parent is an only child to have two children in November 2013, calls grew for reform to the social maintenance fee system. On December 2, 2013, ten legal professionals submitted a petition to the State Council and the Ministry of the Public Security calling for the abolition of the birth permit system, standardization of fines and the supervision of authorities charged with collecting them. On December 23, the National Health and Family Planning Commission announced that provincial authorities would henceforth be allowed to implement the new policy based on “evaluation of the local demographic situation.” So far, however, no provincial government in China has revealed its own version of these new policies. As long as the power of policy-making and enforcing remains in the hands of local authorities, the fragmentation and abuse of China’s most despised social control policy will likely endure.
News China March 2014 Issue