And Finally

A big brood

Debate rages over mother with eight kids

A big brood

Rolling off the production line

Whether they agree with the implementation of the one child policy or not, most Chinese share the belief that population control has helped the country’s economic development (although demographers now warn that a greying population threatens economic growth in future).

For the meantime, one child is the norm, which is why there was shock last month of news that a wealthy couple from the province of Guangdong is raising octuplets.

The biological mother – dubbed “babaotai muqin” or “octomom” by the media – carried three of the children. But the couple had hired two other women to act as gestational surrogates for the other five, the Guangzhou Daily reported. The newspaper estimated that the cost of the fertility treatment and surrogates alone was Rmb1 million. The new parents – whose children are said to have been born in September and October of 2010 – are thought to be spending much more still on a team of 11 nannies, cooks and cleaners to care for the infants.

News of the extended family spread like wildfire, accompanied by a cute photo of the eight one-year olds in identical jumpsuits.

Though the One Child Policy has been relaxed for some segments of society in recent years, it still affects more than half of the population. Fines for having a second child can be the equivalent of several years salary – hence some of the annoyance that the couple in question seem to have had few qualms about breaking the rules themselves.

“The gap between rich and poor is growing,” one netizen wrote. “Now even people’s reproductive rights can be taken care of by money. Pathetic!”

In fact, there is confusion about the nationality of the mother in question, with some newspapers saying that she holds Australian nationality. Others thought the story itself might be a hoax but Guangdong’s Family Planning Commission confirmed that the case is real and being investigated.

Commercial surrogacy was outlawed in China in 2001 but has been favoured by women unable to give birth, who complete the procedure overseas. It has also started to become a more popular option for older, career-minded women. But state media has weighed in on the subject disapprovingly, with a typical piece in the China Daily declaring that it would lead to the creation of “a breeder class” of poorer women who end up “renting their wombs to wealthy people”.

At least there was a minor element of humour in the debate, in terms of how the octoparents were revealed. Apparently the state employs over six million people to make sure its family planning rules are respected. But the Guangdong couple were only uncovered after a photographer used an image of the octuplets to advertise his services online.

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