Chinese families still at mercy of officials despite easing of one-child policy

22 November 2013 11:31 PM

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A history of China’s one-child policy

But on Wednesday, five days after the announcement, the reality of Chinese family planning policy hit home. Lois read a newspaper article in which officials said the law would not take effect immediately, and that babies born before a yet-to-be-determined cut-off date would still be illegal.

“If my baby is born just one day early, it is illegitimate,” she said. “It is ridiculous and unbelievable. I feel the unfairness of it, I feel desperation, I feel anger. I feel humiliated.”

The relaxation of the controversial one-child policy, which dates to 1980, is part of a sweeping package of economic and social reforms announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Unveiled amid mounting concern about an aging population and a potential labor shortage, the new family-planning policy states that if either member of a couple is an only child, they may have two children. In the past, urban couples could have a second child if both of them were only children; rural couples could have a second if their first child was a girl.

The change will affect around 15 to 20 million couples, and push up the birth rate by around one million births a year, according to officials and experts. But China’s overall population levels will not be much affected, and will still peak below 1.5 billion around 2033, from around 1.3 billion now, officials said.

Lois asked to be identified by her English name rather than her Chinese name, to avoid drawing the authorities’ attention. A magazine writer, she is an only child, but her husband, a software engineer, is not. That means they could only have one child under the existing rules.

Her daughter paused from her play to say how excited she was about getting a younger brother or sister. Lois said the little girl had played a very active part in a discussion about baby names a few days ago, while her young friends had been thrilled to feel the mother’s tummy at the park on Tuesday. Now, all the worries have come flooding back.

“My husband is very worried that the neighborhood committee would report us,” Lois said.

Yang Zhizhu, a former law professor at the China Youth University for Political Sciences, lost his job in 2010 and was fined $40,000 when his wife had a second daughter. Last year, he was finally allowed back, but only to do research work on a paltry salary of less than $1,000 a month. He is still not allowed to lecture.


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