June 27th, 2012 | Global Times Experts gather in Beijing to call for changes to family planning
Family planning was at the forefront of the agenda on Sunday, when 30 scholars from around the nation gathered in Beijing at an event initiated by Peking University, to discuss policies and figure out how to avoid tragedies similar to the recent scandal in Ankang, Shaanxi Province, in which a woman who was seven months pregnant was forced to abort her second child.
“We’re working on a letter to the National People’s Congress suggesting changes be made in the current population and family planning laws,” said Li Jianxin, a sociologist with Peking University, one of the discussion initiators.
The meeting focused on issues ranging from second-child policies, forced abortions and fines for policy violations.
Demographers, legal experts, economists and government management consultants who are debating the policies have yet to agree on these issues, but a final appeal will be made public online or through the media soon, Li said.
Scholars speak out
The government has been experimenting with relaxed family planning policies in some areas; allowing couples who are both the only children in their families to give birth to a second child. But some are asking for greater reforms.
In a petition letter calling for an amendment to the country’s Population and Family Planning Law, Zhan Zhongle, a law professor with Peking University, said that if local authorities are in charge of determining issues such as the number of babies couples are allowed, there would be too many inconsistencies in the law.
Instead of controlling people’s right to have children, Zhan suggests the authorities change the law to encourage people to freely but responsibly bear children.
“Residents should be the ones to decide how many children they want, not the government,” Liang Zhongtang, demographer and former member of the expert committee of China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, told the Global Times after attending the meeting in Beijing.
Amid widespread public debate over recent forced abortion scandals, three lawyers from Beijing, Hunan and Guangdong submitted a letter to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security on June 14, suggesting penalties for officials involved in the Ankang scandal.
The Ankang government announced yesterday that the family planning bureau chief of Zhenping county and a number of township government officials would be removed from their positions.
The lawyers also suggested there should be laws forbidding forced abortions, and that police shouldn’t be involved in enforcing family planning policies. They also called for previous forced abortion cases to be made public.
Thus far, they haven’t received any reply from the authorities.
Li Fangping, one of the three lawyers, told the Global Times they’re organizing a team of lawyers nationwide to provide free legal consulting and services for victims of forced abortions.
Yang Zhizhu, associate law professor at China Youth University for Political Sciences, who was dismissed and fined 240,000 yuan ($37,700) for having a second child in 2010, openly criticized the family planning policy for violating human rights. He told the Global Times he recently returned to his post at the university with the government’s approval, to register a hukou (household registration) for his second daughter, but the university said he couldn’t submit research projects on family planning.
“I’ll keep on protesting, and keep trying to change deep-rooted concepts among Chinese who still see the policy as beneficial,” he said.
Supporters of family planning
Although the majority of campaigners put an emphasis on the side effects of the policy, some still support it, including doctors, who say it’s still necessary given China’s exploding population.
“I hail the policy, though there are loopholes in its enforcement,” said Guo Jianmei, director of a women’s legal aid NGO in China. “Family planning should be properly conducted but it shouldn’t become an excuse for officials to abuse their powers,” she said.
“People with money and power can always manage to evade the policy, while the disadvantaged become the victims of forced family planning,” Guo said, adding that the policy should be modified but not overthrown, and better public supervision regarding its enforcement is required.
Serious cases involving demolition, heavy fines and forced abortions were more common years ago, said Rong Qi, a doctor with the Beijing Antai Maternity Hospital who has been performing surgery related to family planning for 30 years.
“My heart aches seeing young mothers coming in to abort their illegal babies unwillingly. But it’s a national policy that we must abide by, and also part of my job, even though I don’t like it when it’s taken to extremes.”
“But I can’t imagine what will happen if the policy is abolished and everyone can have as many children as they want. It should be relaxed to some extent, but there should be restrictions and better management,” she said.
The escalation of the debate may not see immediate effects, since it’s been controversial since its launch in the 1970s, say experts.
“What we can do now is appeal for changes within the law, hoping for the establishment of a more developed legal system which protects people’s reproductive rights,” said Li Jianxin.
According to a report released in 2007 by a research team organized by the National Population and Family Planning Commission, the total fertility rate (TFR) in China should ideally remain at 1.8 (births per woman) for the next three decades.
While there are no official records from the commission showing the precise fertility rate in China, most experts and demographers agree it has fallen to 1.5 or below. A dangerously low birth rate can lead to problems such as an aging society and increased pension costs.
The United Nations Development Program revealed in a 2011 report that China’s TFR is 1.6.
The National Population and Family Planning Commission and the Ministry of Public Security did not respond to the Global Times’ requests for an interview as of yesterday evening.
By Yan Shuang