Saturday 21 October 2017

City sparks outrage with plan to fine unmarried mothers

A baby was rescued after being trapped in a sewage pipe moments after his birth last week (AP)
A baby was rescued after being trapped in a sewage pipe moments after his birth last week (AP)

A Chinese city plans to fine mothers who have a child out of wedlock, sparking criticism that the policy is discriminatory and could lead to an increase in abandoned babies.

Wuhan city says the rule is aimed at keeping the birth rate low. One expert says it is the first time that out-of-wedlock children have been expressly singled out for penalty by one of China's municipalities, which have flexibility in how they enforce national population-control policies.

It comes days after the rescue of a young single mother's newborn from a sewer pipe in eastern China prompted discussion over the stigma that single mothers face. Chen Yaya of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences warned there could be more "sewer babies" if the policy is enacted.

"If the policy is approved, there could be more 'sewer babies' because when mothers can't afford the cost, they might think about throwing their babies away," said Chen, a gender equality researcher.

On Friday, the government of the city, in central Hubei, published online a draft updated family planning policy which it says is aimed at keeping the city's birth rate at a low level. The policy says that "the parties" should pay the fee in cases of births that are out of wedlock or when one side knowingly has a child with someone who has a spouse.

It has been interpreted in state media as mainly targeting unmarried mothers and women who have affairs with married men. The public has a week to comment on it. "It looks like the policy is targeted just at women from my understanding," Chen said.

In the case of the baby found in the sewer in Zhejiang province on May 25, his mother told police she got pregnant after a brief affair, could not afford an abortion, hid her pregnancy from family and neighbours and had concerns about whether she would be able to raise the child.

Police also said she told them the baby slipped into the sewer accidentally shortly after its birth, an account they later said they accepted.

Wuhan's proposed rule would be the first time that bearing a child when unmarried has been spelled out as a separate offence, said Yuan Xin, a professor of population studies at Renmin University.

Babies resulting from an unmarried relationship or an affair with someone who is already married will provoke a "social compensation fee", an official at the family planning committee of Wuhan said. Hubei province sets its social compensation fee at three times average annual disposable income.

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