Government officials in Wuhan, part of central China’s Hubei province, released a new family policy Friday that targets and fines unwed mothers for bearing children out of wedlock. Although most provinces in China lump wedlock births with other unacceptable births, Wuhan is the first city to treat unwed mothers in a separate category. The public can comment on the policy for one week before it goes into effect.
Traditional Chinese culture frowns upon premarital sex, and the government already bans unwed mothers from maternity benefits. If caught, mothers with illegal children pay a “social compensation fee.” In Hubei, that fine is three times the average income after taxes.
While China’s one-child policy seeks to shrink the population, it causes a detrimental side effect—the devaluation of children. “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 Yaya, a Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences researcher.
“Sewer babies” refers to a May 25 case in Zhejiang, eastern China, where a 22-year-old mother delivered her out-of-wedlock child in an apartment bathroom. Police have accepted her story that the child accidently slipped into the toilet, where an L-shaped pipe saved the baby. After a two hour rescue, firemen extracted the child from the pipe and rushed the mostly-unharmed newborn to a hospital. The mother said she had no money for an abortion, and concealed her pregnancy from family and neighbors.
An eruption of child sex abuse cases in China further emphasizes child devaluation. The most high profile case—that of an elementary school headmaster who spent the night in a hotel with four girls—caused an uproar. At least seven more cases of sexual abuse by school teachers or employees against young girls have come to light over the past three weeks from different parts of China. Some victims were as young as 8. Other cases involving government officials hiring underage girls are prosecuted as prostitution, not more-harshly-punished child rape.
Yuan Xin, a professor of population studies at Renmin University, said Wuhan’s policy raises questions: “We need to distinguish between the legal and moral aspects. … Let’s say I am single, and I want to have a child. Is that wrong? No, it’s not, so is it considered a family? Having a baby with a married man, is that considered a family? All these details need to be specified.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.