a chinese mother and a baby

This Chinese Province Is Making It Easier to Have Kids Out of Wedlock

The health commission in Southwest China’s Sichuan province recently announced that it would no longer require women to be married when registering a birth

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10:20 AM HKT, Sat February 4, 2023 2 mins read

Beginning February 15, Sichuan, a province of more than 80 million people in Southwest China, will lift certain restrictions on birth registrations for a five-year period.

According to an announcement by the Provincial Health Commission, one of the recently absolved restrictions is a longstanding marriage requirement that has made it extremely difficult for unwed women to obtain prenatal healthcare, paid maternity leave, and maternity insurance.

The change of rules in Sichuan means that it is now possible for the children of single mothers to get a hukou, the household registration tied to a child’s future education and ability to access social services.

In most parts of the country, it is hard for illegitimate children to obtain hukous.

Such policy changes are born of China’s growing effort to mitigate its population decline. Earlier this month, the Chinese government released data showing that the country’s population had decreased for the first time in six decades in 2022.

On January 30, a day after Sichuan’s sudden announcement, a staff member from the province’s health commission clarified that “the [new measures] are not intended to encourage having children out of wedlock, but [serve] to protect the rights and interests of unmarried pregnant people.”

Despite this clarification, the lifting of restrictions has stirred up heated debate.

Many netizens are worried about what message the changes will send with regard to having premarital and extramarital sex. A Weibo tag related to the subject currently has 320 million views.

One Weibo user wrote, “Isn’t this a tacit approval of extramarital affairs and illegitimate children? The country’s monogamous society may be seriously challenged […] isn’t this method of lowering moral standards inappropriate?”

Some fear-mongering posts even suggest that “the system of polygamy and multiple concubines is coming back” and that “the quality of child-rearing will go down.”

However, it’s worth noting that under the Chinese Civil Code, a child born out of wedlock should always have equal rights — including the right to an inheritance — as a child born to married parents. Biological parents who fail to provide for their kids will also need to pay child support until their offspring are of legal age.

Single motherhood has long been a contentious topic in China. Mothers bearing a child out of wedlock are often unable to receive their salary during maternity leave, and unmarried women often cannot get prenatal care at public hospitals or maternity benefits, even in cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai.

Additionally, longstanding regulations put in place by the Chinese National Health Commission in the 2000s still prevent unmarried women in China from benefiting from reproductive assistance technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF) and egg freezing.

In relation to the above, in July 2022, a Chinese court ruled against an unmarried woman who had sued a hospital for refusing to freeze her eggs. These strict family planning rules directly conflict with the country’s effort to encourage births.

Some netizens — in tentative support of Sichuan’s new policy — believe that the relaxed birth registration requirements will serve as a step towards allowing single women access to IVF and egg freezing.

However, a smaller group of netizens have questioned the policy’s effectiveness.

“The most important factor affecting the fertility of young people is not whether single births can be registered and recognized, but the cost of childbearing and raising and educating the child […] Even if there is no limit on the number of children, young people’s willingness to have children will not be significantly improved, because the fundamental problem has not been solved,” expressed a popular blogger by the name of Geng Xiangshun.

Cover image via Depositphotos

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