Though China’s one-child policy was abolished over two years ago, related rules are still being enforced in some parts of the country, prompting rebukes from demographers and legal experts.
In the eastern province of Fujian, for example, local officials in Minhou County told families who had received cash bonuses for having only one child that they would have to pay back at least double if they have a second child, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Thursday.
The one-child policy, introduced in 1979, involved a complex system of rules, incentives, and penalties that varied from place to place. In rural areas of Fujian, couples were entitled to a second child if their first child was a girl.
A few years after their daughter was born in 2005, a Minhou County resident surnamed Zhang and his wife signed a contract promising not to have a second child, for which they received a cash reward. In 2017, after China implemented the two-child policy nationwide, the couple had a second child — but could not get a straight answer as to whether they would have to return the bonus payments.
In January, Zhang made a query on a government website, and the county’s health and family planning bureau responded with a public clarification that such payments must be returned.
A family planning official in Minhou confirmed the bureau’s position to The Paper, saying that because Zhang had given up his right to a second child and received the bonus, he should now have to pay the money back. The official added that Zhang’s family had received a lump sum of 1,000 yuan (then $140), as well as an extra 60 yuan per month.
Wu Youshui, a lawyer based in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, told Sixth Tone that the official’s comments demonstrated his ignorance of the current law. “Every law has a validity period,” he explained. “Since the revised Population and Family Planning Law took effect in 2016, government officials should no longer be using the old law as a reference.”
The bureau’s response to Zhang’s question referred to a notice about the one-child-era bonus that had been issued by the provincial health and family planning commission in 2007. Sixth Tone’s calls to the commission on Thursday went unanswered.
On Thursday evening, an official from the municipal health and family planning commission of Fuzhou, the provincial capital of Fujian, told The Paper that the notice has been invalid since 2016, and couples having a second child do not need to pay back the bonus. The official added that the municipal commission had contacted Minhou County about the issue.
The one-child policy bonus hasn’t been the only point of contention between couples and local governments in recent years. Since 2015, when the central government allowed couples to have a second child if either spouse were an only child, there have been several cases of families suing governments over second-child fines.
“There should be a more reasonable approach to dealing with the one-child policy bonus issue,” Huang Kuang of the China Population and Development Research Center, a think tank administered by the National Health and Family Planning Commission, told The Paper. “A couple having a second child should no longer receive the bonus — but they shouldn’t be asked to return the money either.”
Netizens question the local government’s double standard in asking for bonuses to be paid back, wondering, for example, if officials also plan to return the fines they imposed on couples who had second children illegally. Some also believe the stand taken by the Minhou County bureau is discouraging people from having second children — which the government has acknowledged the country sorely needs.
At this year’s Two Sessions political meetings, a National People’s Congress delegate from Guangdong proposed that limits on family size be abolished altogether. Last year, over 17 million babies were born in China — a large number, but still 630,000 fewer than in 2016. In the meantime, the legacy of the one-child policy continues to be a source of societal stress, as there are more elderly people than the country’s geriatric care system can accommodate.
“It’s common sense that when new laws come into being, old laws become void,” said Wu, the lawyer. “When we talk about the law-based application of state power, which laws are we talking about — the current ones or the abolished ones?”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: A father holds his two daughters in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, Aug. 6, 2014. Ye Tingting/VCG)