For some 35 years, China's population was strictly controlled by the Communist government’s one-child policy. But what about the estimated 13 million unregistered second and third children, asks Catholic News Agency.
Parents were only allowed one child, and additional pregnancies meant forced abortions or hefty fines and penalties, such as the loss of a job. These additional children could be denied family household registration, which is the equivalent of denying them citizenship and basic services such as public transportation and education.
There have been recent relaxations of the one-child policy. Alarmed by an aging population, shrinking workforce and potentially stagnating economy, government officials announced in 2013 that couples could apply to have a second child if either partner was an only child themselves. In 2015, the rule was relaxed even further, changing from a one-child policy to a two-child policy for everyone.
But what about the estimated 13 million unregistered second and third children, stuck in the cracks of a government policy that refused to recognise their existence?
A short documentary, Invisible lives: The legacy of China’s family planning rules, from the Thomas Reuters Foundation, explores the lives of these people.
“I don’t think the Chinese government has realised the human rights catastrophe caused by the family planning rules,” said Yang Zhizhu, an associate professor of civil law in Beijing, who is featured in the documentary.
“The family planning rules have always been a mistake. It’s not that we don’t need them now. It’s that we never needed them.”
In 2010, Zhizhu was suspended from teaching and fined $36,000 – nine times the average income in his district – for having a second child. Since then, Zhizhu has tried to come up with creative ways to fight the policy, including posting a photo of himself online trying to “sell himself” to come up with the money for the fine, and being careful to write and record his experiences of injustice with the policy. In 2012, the university reinstated his salary, but he is still not allowed to teach.
It wasn’t Zhizhu’s plan to spend his life fighting the family planning rules, but because no one else seems to be doing it, “I have to do it,” he said.
China's one-child policy (CNS photo/Diego Azubel, EPA)
What's it like to be an 'invisible' child under China's one-child policy? (CNA/EWTN)