Fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy dilemma un­rav­eled

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The Na­tion­alHealth and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion has said it would con­tinue to col­lect so­cial main­te­nance fees, or fines paid by cou­ples for hav­ing more chil­dren than the State al­lows, and there is no timetable for im­ple­ment­ing the two-child pol­icy. The com­mis­sion’s remark was in re­sponse to pub­lic con­cerns over the draft reg­u­la­tion on the is­sue which it has sub­mit­ted to the State Coun­cil, the cab­i­net, for ap­proval.

“The fees will not be abol­ished be­cause it would be un­fair on cou­ples who have abided by the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy,” Song Shuli, spokes­woman for the com­mis­sion, said.

The com­mis­sion’s re­sponse has dis­ap­pointed peo­ple seek­ing to have more than one child. It also means the decades-long fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy, un­der which the majority of cou­ples can have only one child, will not be eased any time soon and the con­tro­ver­sial so­cial main­te­nance fees will con­tinue to be im­posed de­spite pub­lic op­po­si­tion.

The so­cial main­te­nance fees, in­tro­duced along with the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy in the 1980s and which got its cur­rent name in 2002, is be­lieved to be an ef­fec­tive way of pun­ish­ing cou­ples who vi­o­late the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy. But the fees have long been sur­rounded in con­tro­versy for lack of trans­parency and breed­ing cor­rup­tion. Many have de­nounced it as a means used by lo­cal gov­ern­ments to fill their cof­fers. Ac­cord­ing to rough es­ti­mates, more than 20 bil­lion yuan ($3.25 bil­lion) is col­lected an­nu­ally in the name of the fees, and au­dit­ing de­part­ments have ex­posed many ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in its use in re­cent years.

The whop­ping fine im­posed on film di­rec­tor Zhang Yimou early this year for hav­ing more than one child once again high­lighted the is­sue of so­cial main­te­nance fees. Zhang was or­dered to pay 7.48 mil­lion yuan after ad­mit­ting that he and his wife had had three chil­dren be­fore they got mar­ried.

Aside from its opac­ity, many be­lieve the so­cial main­te­nance fees have given the rich and fa­mous like Zhang a ticket to have as many chil­dren as they like, but de­prived the poor of the same right as they can’t af­ford to pay heavy fines. This dis­crim­i­na­tion is one of the main rea­sons why many peo­ple have been de­mand­ing the abo­li­tion of the fees.

But de­spite the dis­crim­i­na­tion, any talk on its abo­li­tion seems fu­tile, be­cause the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy pro­vides the le­gal ba­sis for its ex­is­tence. The so­cial main­te­nance fees can be abol­ished only after the fi­nal decision is made on the fate of the strict fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy. With­out the fees, how can the au­thor­i­ties en­sure peo­ple abide by the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy?

At the end of last year, China’s top decision-mak­ers an­nounced the loos­en­ing of the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy. Now­cou­ples one (or both) of whom is the only child of his/her par­ents can have a sec­ond child. But still a majority of Chi­nese cou­ples are not el­i­gi­ble to have a sec­ond child.

The fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy has in­deed checked China’s ex­plod­ing pop­u­la­tion growth. It has also in­grained the one-child con­cept in many peo­ple’s minds, es­pe­cially be­cause of the ever-in­creas­ing cost of bring­ing up a child di­min­ished their long­ing to have more than one child. This is in­di­cated by the fact that only about 700,000 of the 11 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble cou­ples had ap­plied to have a sec­ond child by the end of Au­gust. Also, the sixth cen­sus con­ducted in 2010 shows that China’s fer­til­ity rate is only about 1.2, far be­low the world’s av­er­age of 2.1.

Such a low fer­til­ity rate and un­will­ing­ness of cou­ples to have a sec­ond child high­light the sever­ity of China’s de­mo­graphic prob­lems, in par­tic­u­lar the ac­cel­er­at­ing ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and the “Lewisian turn­ing point”. They also call into ques­tion the need to main­tain a tar­geted fam­ily plan­ning in place in China. The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily. wuy­ixue@chi­nadaily.com.cn

CAI MENG / CHINA DAILY

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