SHANGHAI -- A young couple from Beijing have used a crowdfunding website to appeal for donations, after being fined under China’s family planning regulations for having a child out of wedlock.
Shen Bolun and his partner Wu Xia started the appeal as soon as their daughter was born, both to raise funds for the fine of around $7,000, and to provoke a debate on the rules, which say only married couples are allowed to have children, China’s Global Times reported.
However the website hosting the appeal deleted it on Monday after less than a day -- apparently as a result of official pressure -- leaving the couple some $5,500 short of their target.
China charges what is known as a "social maintenance fee" to anyone having a child in breach of its family planning regulations, which until recently have also limited most urban couples to a single child (though this rule was partially relaxed last year). The amount varies from region to region, but the Beijing authorities fined Shen and Wu around 44,000 yuan -- more or less equivalent to an annual wage for many of the city's residents.
Only after paying this fee can a child be included on a family’s ‘hukou’ or household registration document, without which it is impossible to get access to social welfare benefits or free education.
Shen said the couple planned to continue their appeal on other funding platforms, and “hoped to get more people to take part in the discussion to drive possible changes in the regulation."
“We think that fertility rights should not be linked to marriage [and] it is necessary to make our voices heard,” he told the Global Times.
Shen's appeal has led some young people to express support online -- though others expressed suspicion about the appeal, and suggested that if the couple had such strong principles they should simply refuse to pay the fine. Shen, however, said he had no choice under the current regulations.
Despite the dramatic changes in Chinese society and economy in recent years, many of the country's current regulations have their roots in the early Communist era: little more than a decade ago, an unmarried couple living together could have been accused of illegal cohabitation. And while in practice attitudes to relationships and marriage have changed significantly -- one recent survey of some 10,000 urban residents aged between 14 and 35 showed that 60 percent approved of sex before marriage -- almost double the figure from a decade earlier -- many social rules have yet to catch up. There is still no provision for unmarried couples to obtain the permit normally required to give birth.
However Wu and Shen may be lucky in comparison to some single Chinese women who get pregnant -- at least they were able to provide a paternity certificate. In one case that hit the headlines two years ago, a single mother was unable to register her four-year old daughter for a hukou -- and therefore access to education or health care -- because she had lost contact with the father and could not provide the documents needed. Some provinces are reported to have relaxed the rules in recent years, but discrimination remains, and for various reasons, there were 13 million unregistered children in China, according to the country’s 2010 census.
And with continuing social pressure on young people to conform to the conventional norms of getting married -- usually within a few years of leaving school or university -- many unmarried women who get pregnant either abort their babies, give their children up for adoption, or in some cases simply abandon them. However in recent years, some unmarried and single mothers have started online discussion forums defending their right to make their own choices.