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China's Anhui publishes draft rules allowing single parents to register births

The move comes as the government tries to boost the country's flagging birth rate, as population growth slows.

By Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin 2022.09.14 -- Faced with falling birth rates, authorities in Anhui are gearing up to remove bans on unmarried women having children.

The Anhui Provincial Health and Health Commission issued a draft change to regulations for public comment that will free up requirements around registering births and remove a ban on single women registering a birth, the official provincial news website AnhuiWang reported.

"Citizens who already have children will no longer be restricted to a certain number of births, and will be able to apply to register new births," the document said.

"If no marriage has been registered, the ID card or household registration booklet should be supplied," the draft rules say.

The draft rules go further than a similar document issued by the central province of Hunan in July 2022, which allowed couples to register births if marriages were planned in the next few months, according to a report on the Sohu news platform.

The proposals come as China's population records zero growth, with the number of newborns falling to just 10.62 million in 2021, the Global Times newspaper quoted the National Bureau of Statistics as saying.

Lu Jun, founder of the non-profit Beijing Yirenping Center, who now lives in New York, said that the reproductive rights of unmarried women in China were ignored for a long time during the era of family planning controls under the draconian "one-child" policy.

"Unmarried [mothers] couldn't get a birth certificate in the past; hospitals wouldn't give them pregnancy tests, prenatal care or deliver their babies," Lu said.

"Birth certificates weren't available to them ... and if they had a baby it wouldn't have a hukou [household registration]," he said. "Without the hukou, the kid wouldn't even be able to go to school, and there would be no benefits such as maternity insurance."

'Predicated on marriage'

Lu welcomed the proposed changes in Anhui, but also called for changes to the law and regulations to allow single women to freeze their eggs or access other forms of fertility technology -- something they are currently barred from doing.

"This technology is all predicated on marriage," he said.

"They think that people's right to reproduce needs to be managed by the state, and they don't see it as part of their natural rights as human beings," Lu said.

Online responses to the plan have been mixed, with some commentators worrying about the effect on children of growing up without a father, and others about a lack of legal protection for children born out outside of marriages.

But Lu said the biggest purveyor of discrimination is the Chinese government.

"China has always claimed to be a socialist country and should pay more attention to equality," Lu said. "Children born out of wedlock should enjoy the same rights and dignity as children born in wedlock."

"If these rights were respected, then prejudice and discrimination wouldn't naturally not exist," he said. "Then how would children be negatively impacted? It could set a good example for the whole of society."

Kuan-ting Chen of the Taiwan Next-Gen Foundation think tank, agreed.

"The rights and interests of children born can't be damaged by [their mother's] unmarried status," Chen said. "This is unfair to children."

"Whether single-parent families have problems depends on many factors, including their level of income and education," he said.

"The situation [should be] that, when both parties agree not to marry, [the child] is raised by the father or mother [alone]."

Supportive policies

He said the democratic island of Taiwan has a raft of policies aimed at encouraging people to have kids.

"There's good nursery provision, public kindergartens, and a system of qualified childminders," Chen said. "The key thing is that the government plays an important role in creating an environment suitable for children to grow up in."

"Taiwanese society is relatively open, and [the government] uses policy to adjust the level of assistance and make that good environment."

Lu said that without more supportive policies, any move to allowing single parenthood is unlikely to have much impact in China in the near term.

Officials vowed last month to ensure unmarried mothers receive maternity benefits, with Liu Juan, deputy director of payment security at the National Healthcare Security Administration, following media reports that regional authorities were still asking for marriage certificates.

A joint plan announced by 17 government departments in August 2022 vowed to offer "support policies in finance, tax, housing, employment, education and other fields to create a fertility-friendly society and encourage families to have more children."

They promised expanded community nursery services, better infant and child care services at local level, including funding for the building of new early years facilities and government controls on childcare fees, as well as government perks for nurseries in the form of cheaper bills.

They also promise to "build a fertility-friendly employment environment," encouraging flexible working and family-friendly workplaces, and safeguarding the labor and employment rights of parents.

But women's rights activists and other commentators said discrimination in the workplace still presents major obstacles to equality for Chinese women, despite protections enshrined in the country's law.

Chinese women still face major barriers to finding work in the graduate labor market and fear getting pregnant if they have a job, out of concern their employer will fire them.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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