2018-07-06 13:38:51

A 6-year-old might be upset to hear that their parents are getting divorced — but in some cases, it’s just to get them into a good school.

Due to a scarcity of school places, this year the city of Shijiazhuang in northern China’s Hebei province introduced an enrollment policy that prioritizes children whose parents both have their hukou, or household registration, tied to the same district as the school — unless they’re divorced, in which case only one parent needs to be registered in the school district.

The policy has resulted in many parents of preschoolers rushing to register “fake” divorces, Beijing Youth Daily reported on Thursday, so their children can enroll in well-regarded public schools before admissions close.

“After our child gets the admission notice on July 19, we will get remarried,” a mother who divorced her husband on Tuesday told the newspaper. An employee at one marriage registration center said the number of divorcing couples had doubled recently. The Chinese school year starts in September.

On Thursday afternoon, the municipal education bureau of Shijiazhuang responded to the phenomenon, saying that even if students cannot get into their first-choice school, they will be enrolled in a nearby school.

According to the bureau, the number of first-graders across the city is expected to increase by 15,000 this year compared to 2017, resulting in fierce competition for places.

Due to a baby boom six years ago — when many Chinese parents wanted to have child born during the auspicious Year of the Dragon — primary schools across the country are being inundated with enrollment applications for “dragonborn” children who are now reaching school age. One district in the southern city of Guangzhou was reported to have added 42 classes to accommodate new students.

The Shijiazhuang news report touched a nerve with parents stressed out by the competition for first-grade spots. In one jaw-dropping case, a family in Beijing spent over 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) to purchase a dingy basement just so they could register their household at its address near an elite public school.

As most public schools require students to be residents of the local district, xuequfang — “school district houses” — near popular schools can fetch sky-high prices. In April, the Beijing government piloted an automated school allocation system in some districts to curb such practices.

The phenomenon of “fake divorces” is not new in China, where stories of couples splitting in order to circumvent property limits, evade debts, or increase their compensation entitlements in a demolition often make headlines. While some say such practices merely reflect failures of public policy, others argue that they harm the sanctity of marriage and family.

In a Thursday commentary by a Beijing-based Party newspaper, the author slammed the Shijiazhuang enrollment policy for its negative impact on children. “Try to imagine, before these children start their education, they will watch and learn from their parents’ fake divorce,” writes the author.

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: A boy walks past families waiting for their children outside a primary school in Beijing, Sept. 1, 2013. VCG)