Family planning policy dilemma unraveled
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. firstname.lastname@example.org