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Online Outrage After Chinese City Proposes Fine on Single Mothers

Women giving birth out of wedlock in China have to contend with family pressure, social stigma, and financial hardship. Now, some of them may have to pay a hefty fine as well.

Wuhan, a city of more than 10 million people in Central China, posted a draft regulation online containing measures that would introduce a fine on women giving birth “without being able to provide effective proof of paternity” as well as those who “knowingly have children with someone already married.” Commentators believe that the fine could run up to 82,000 RMB (about U.S.$13,000), or about four times the average annual income in Wuhan.

The proposed fine is double the usual “social rearing fee” imposed on parents caught breaking China’s one-child policy. China’s family-planning authorities justify the fine with the theory that “extra” children take up valuable public resources, for which the “offending” parents need to compensate the government.

The draft regulation drew heated discussions on China’s social media. One thread on Sina Weibo accumulated more than 5,300 comments and more than 7,000 retweets.

Most commentators oppose the fine based on its discriminatory nature. In an online survey, almost 50% of over 9,000 respondents believe that the fine is “not reasonable, because having children is not just the responsibility of women, and there needs to be constraints on men’s behavior as well.”

User @JP贾澎博士wrote:

Wuhan imposing fines on single mothers. U.S. and European countries usually give subsidies to single mothers and try to better the lives of this disadvantaged group. In our country, women are not protected. [The single mothers] are subjected to social stigma and must shoulder all the responsibilities by themselves, all for children that are born without a father’s love. Why impose a fine on them!

Others have taken issue with the concept of a “social rearing fee” and see it as another way for the government to impose an extra tax on the already-overburdened. @丁来峰tweeted:

After a child’s birth, their parents pay for all the costs like hospital stay, food, tuition from kindergarten all way to college. And they grow up to become taxpayers and keep the government and officials in their jobs. When did society ever rear them? How can you justify such a hefty social rearing fee?

A social stigma against sex in high school and college means that China’s sex education does not focus on the use of contraception. Many fear that the proposed fine in Wuhan could push even more women to choose abortion. Abortion is a common choice for Chinese girls who find themselves pregnant out of wedlock. Hospitals that specialize in abortions advertise at bus stops and in magazines, and many offer “student specials.”

The prevalence of abortions in China means that the women who end up having children out of wedlock are either too uneducated or inexperienced to recognize what has happened to them, or paralyzed by fear of family reactions. Last week, a young woman’s baby had to be rescued from a sewage pipe. Some men who desire a son try to circumvent China’s one-child policy by having children with multiple women.

This backdrop explains why users like @王云岭 tweeted, “A fine against single mothers is an inhuman enforcement of the law, and may increase the risk of abandonment of children.”

The Wuhan authorities responded to the controversy by releasing a statement saying that the regulation has not been finalized. In recent years, many policy measures have been floated on China’s Internet first, seemingly to test public reaction before implementation. In the past, some measures have been abandoned after encountering a vociferous reaction online. It’s not clear what will happen in this case, but Wuhan’s powers that be may have already blinked.