China announced yesterday it was making exceptions to its one-child policy for some families affected by the devastating earthquake two weeks ago.
The Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee in the capital of hard-hit Sichuan Province announced that families whose child was killed, severely injured or disabled in the quake could get a certificate allowing them to have another child.
The May 12 quake was particularly painful to many Chinese because it killed so many only children.
The death toll from the quake has reached more than 62,000 people so far, with more than 23,000 missing. Officials have not been able to estimate the number of children killed.
China’s one-child policy was launched in the late 1970s to control China’s exploding population and ensure better education and health care. The law limits couples to having one child but includes certain exceptions for ethnic groups, rural families and families where both parents were the only child in their families when they were growing up.
The government says the policy has prevented an additional 400 million births, but critics say it has also led to forced abortions, sterilizations and a dangerously imbalanced sex ratio as local authorities pursue sometimes severe birth quotas set by Beijing and families abort girls out of a preference for male heirs.
Yesterday’s announcement affects parents in the city of Chengdu, which has 10 million people, as well as two of the hardest-hit cities, Dujiangyan and Pengzhou.
The earthquake threw life in Sichuan into chaos and raised questions about what would happen to shattered families.
The emergency announcement was simply clarifying existing guidelines, said a family planning committee official surnamed Wang.
“There are just a lot of cases now, so we need to clarify our policies,” he said.
The committee plans to help about 1,200 of the worst-hit families, but that number could change, Wang said.
The announcement offers a glimpse into the strict workings of China’s one-child system.
It addresses the common problem of couples illegally having more than one child. If a child born illegally was killed in the quake, the parents will no longer have to pay fines for that child — but the previously paid fines won’t be refunded, the committee said.
If a couple’s legally born child was killed and the couple is left with an illegally born child under the age of 18, that child can be registered as the legal child — an important move that gives the child previously denied rights including nine years of free compulsory education.
The earthquake, and its destruction of almost 7,000 classrooms during a school day, left China heartbroken, with photos focusing on piles of dusty bookbags and small hands emerging from the debris.
Many Chinese have shown interest in adopting earthquake orphans, and yesterday’s announcement says there are no limits on the number of earthquake orphans a family can adopt. A couple that adopts won’t be penalized if they later have their own biological child.
Officials estimated last week that the quake left about 4,000 orphans, but they have said they will make every effort to place children with other family members.