Birth control

The one-child policy turns 35

A girl rides a toy car at the VIP lounge of BMW dealer shop in Beijing

Rules of the road: one-child only remains the norm

Thirty-five years ago today China’s ruling Communist Party published an open letter in the People’s Daily announcing the start of the one-child policy.

“The population is growing too fast, making it very hard to improve people’s living standards. If we do not limit one couple to one child… our country’s population will reach 1.3 billion in 20 years and 1.5 billion in 40 years,” it said.

This year the anniversary of the policy will coincide with Xi Jinping’s trip to the US where he will chair a global leaders meeting on ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment’ at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York.

Ahead of the meeting, officials and activists in the US have been trying to draw attention to the case of detained female lawyer Wang Yu and five young Chinese feminists who were arrested in March for protesting against sexual harassment on public transport.

And back in China three more cases this summer have further highlighted how arbitrary the one-child policy can be.

The most recent is that of a 41 year-old woman surnamed Chen from the southwestern province of Yunnan, who was eight months pregnant with her second child when her husband’s bosses came to their house and said he would lose his job as a police officer if they continued with the pregnancy.

In a series of text messages published on the internet Chen detailed how she resisted at first and later seemed to lose hope.

“I would rather throw myself under a car than let them stick that needle into my baby,” she added.

Netizens were horrified and began calling local officials in Chen’s hometown of Chuxiong, while one local travel agency even offered her husband an alternative job.

In her last communication Chen said her husband had agreed to the abortion and that she would be taken to hospital in the next few days.

“There is no difference between an abortion at eight months and murder,” wrote one of the five million netizens who took to weibo to comment on the case.

“Of course a police officer can’t break the law, but a job is temporary and a baby is for life. The husband should just resign,” wrote another.

Under changes to family planning laws introduced in 2013, couples can have a second child in situations where at least one of them is the product of a single-child family.

In Chen’s case both she and her husband have siblings and because he is a government employee they were further discouraged from simply having the baby and paying a fine afterwards – which many Chinese do.

Another controversial case this summer – highlighting how the policy permeates Chinese society – was that of unmarried film star Xu Jinglei, who told a local magazine she had travelled to the US to get her eggs frozen.

Her admission prompted the Ministry of Health to release a statement reminding people that under the family planning laws only married women can make use of assisted fertility treatments.

“Some hospitals may allow unmarried women to freeze their eggs but they will have to show a marriage certificate and birth approval certificate to use them,” the ministry said.

Immediately netizens voiced their disapproval, asking why a woman shouldn’t be able to have a baby on her own.

“This is just another ruse to get us to marry,” said one woman on weibo.

“Xu can afford it on her own, so why make her get married. It’s nonsense,” wrote another.

The third case was that of Shen Bolun and Wu Xia, a young, internet savvy Beijing couple who had tried to raise $7,000 by turning to popular crowdfunding website

The sum they were raising was to pay a government fine for having a child out of wedlock. They’d argued this was unfair because their daughter is their first child and does not add to society’s burden.

Within hours of launching on Dreamore they had raised a third of what they needed for the so-called “social maintenance fee” but then the authorities got wind of their activities and ordered the crowdfunding company to take down their request.

Since then the unmarried couple has looked into suing the Beijing local government for discrimination but a lawyer has advised the pair they wouldn’t win.

The advice from people in the family planning office is just to get married and then get divorced in order to avoid the fine.

Shen and Wu (who got pregnant by accident) don’t want to do this.

“We both recognise the child as ours, she will count as one of the children we are both allowed to have so I don’t see why we are discriminated against for not being a couple,” Wu said. “I see why so many women give up and have an abortion,” she adds.

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