Single mothers in Chinese provence face hefty fines for birthing out of wedlock

By Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian
Monday, June 3, 2013 10:03 EDT
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Women in Wuhan province could be fined £17,000 – six times average disposable income – for having a child out of wedlock

The central Chinese city of Wuhan has published a draft ordinance that would fine women who have children out of wedlock more than £17,000, highlighting the country’s entrenched gender gap and raising fears of a spike in abortions and abandoned infants.

The new regulation is ostensibly intended to support China’s long-held family planning policies, which allow most couples to have only one child, but local media criticised it as a value judgment against single mothers.

“Cases of children born out of wedlock are often complex and cannot be judged by a one-size-fits-all measure,” said an editorial in the usually conservative state-run Global Times newspaper. “It only penalises mothers while ignoring the responsibilities of the fathers. It only seriously affects the poor while having almost no impact on the rich. It undermines social fairness.”

The editorial added: “In places where these births are penalised, more cases of abortions and infant abandonment may occur due to these punishments and the associated stigma.”

An unmarried women who “cannot provide appropriate licences from her partner,” or who “knowingly bears the child of someone with another spouse” must pay a “social compensation fee” commensurate with provincial family planning laws, said the 26th article of the ordinance, which was published last Friday.

Because of grey areas in local legislation, the women could be fined up to six times the area’s average annual disposable income – more than £17,000 in Wuhan, the Global Times reported. Other parts of China such as Beijing and Guangdong province have already adopted similar regulations.

The lack of a social safety net for single mothers was highlighted last week after a newborn baby was rescued from a sewer pipe in coastal Zhejiang province.

The infant’s 22-year-old unwed mother, who alerted police to baby’s plight, originally claimed that she was only a bystander, possibly because she feared the burden of raising the child alone. While police initially treated the case as attempted murder, they later concluded that it was an accident.

The infant is currently with its mother and grandparents, yet experts say that it is unlikely to receive formal support.

Single mothers have long been stigmatised in Chinese society – “traditional Chinese views can make single mothers feel embarrassed and helpless,” said a 2010 article on the government-controlled website china.org.cn. “An unmarried woman with a child can be a constant source for rumours and gossip.”

Wuhan responded to the criticism by claiming that it will be soliciting “advice” on the draft, and that the article is subject to change.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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