China to Relax One-Child Policy

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

(May 28, 2008) Chinese officials announced on Monday that families whose only child was lost, severely injured or disabled in the devastating May 12 earthquake can obtain a certificate to have another child.

The announcement came from the Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee in the capital of hard-hit Sichuan province. The quake was particularly painful to many Chinese because it killed so many children who were in class when it struck during the early afternoon hours of May 12. Although an exact number of children killed has not been released by the government, almost 7,000 classrooms were destroyed that day. More than 65,000 people were left dead and another 23,000 remain missing.

The government has been overwhelmed by questions from grieving parents and the Chengdu committee has decided to “clarify” it’s one-child policy guidelines, a committee official surnamed Wang told the Associated Press.

“There are just a lot of cases now, so we need to clarify our policies,” Wang said, but declined to elaborate.

This is quite a concession from a country that severely punishes couples who violate the one-child policy. Harry Wu, a Chinese human rights activist now living in the United States, described how the policy is enforced in a 2004 article appearing in National Review Online.

“A majority of Chinese women are forced to use intrauterine devices (IUDs). Violators, if discovered to be pregnant, are often forced to have abortions. Most violators of the one-child policy are forced to undergo sterilization. Doctors who do not perform IUD insertion or sterilization, or who fake these operations, are jailed. Family members of violators are often jailed if they do not reveal a violator’s whereabouts. Other common ‘punishments’ of violators include heavy fines and the destruction of property, and even infanticide. Despite relaxation of certain aspects of China’s family-planning regulations, enforcement of the one-child policy continues to be coercive.”

The Chengdu announcement frees the already suffering victims of the quake from these draconian measures. In addition to lifting the one-child policy, it also states that if a child born “illegally”was killed in the quake, the parents will no longer have to pay fines for that child — but the previously paid fines won’t be refunded.

If a couple’s legally born child was killed and they are left with an “illegally” born child under the age of 18, that child can now be registered as the legal child — which will grant the child previously denied rights including free nine years of compulsory education.

The announcement also includes provisions for those families willing to adopt one of the more than 4,000 children left orphaned by the quake. In addition to setting no limits on the number of children a family is willing to adopt, a future birth in the family will not face the limitations of the one-child policy.

China’s one-child policy was instituted in 1970 as a way to control its burgeoning population. While the government brags about having prevented 400 million births since that time, critics say it has also led to a dangerously imbalanced sex ratio among the general population because of the a traditional preference for male heirs which has caused many families to abort their baby girls.

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