There’s an old phrase in China that goes, “Raise a child to guard against old age.” But a rapidly growing number of families in China that have lost their only child are now facing financial difficulties in their sunset years, and are angry at the Chinese regime’s long-standing policy that usually denies them any more children than one.
Now, 2,431 of these dispirited parents have received a response to a petition, launched two years ago, that sought compensation for having lost an only child: No.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission told the parents that there is no policy of compensation for them. The answer came after 240 representatives of the petitioners traveled to Beijing for the fourth time, on April 21, according to the Legal Evening News.
These parents and many others are now upset about what they see as the unfairness of a policy that issues harsh fines for noncompliance, yet provides no recourse for the consequences that can follow from actually obeying the law.
“As citizens, we fulfilled the obligation of the one-child policy, but we hope that the state would establish a certain protection for the risk we took,” the parents wrote in their application to the government.
‘Who Will Bury Me?’
The one-child policy was launched in China in 1980 as a method of population control based on dubious scientific theories. It applies to everyone, though there are exceptions, such as for farming families who rely on manual labor: they are allowed a second child if the first is a girl or disabled.
The number of families that have lost an only child since the policy was instituted has increased, however. Calculations from China’s 2010 Health Statistics Yearbook show that China has more than a million families that lost their only child; every year roughly 76,000 more only-children die, according to the state-run Beijing News.
Parents currently involved in the dispute with the regime are mostly over 50 years old, and their children mostly died unexpectedly, in their teens or 20s: They suffer not only from the pain of loss, but years of loneliness and lack of financial support.
“I don’t know who is going to take care of me when I’m sick, and who’ll bury me when I die,” said a parent leader of the petition group. She identified herself as “Di’s mom,” in an interview with the Legal Evening News.
Parents have pointed out that while the financial punishments for violating the one-child policy are stringent, the compensation for its consequences is nowhere to be found.
Authorities charge what they call “social maintenance fees” for violators of the policy. These are levied throughout the year, but there is no public register of the total amount of fees collected, nor where the money has been spent. A lawyer attempted to access some of the data however, and was shocked with what he found.
Wu Youshui made an official records request last July in the eastern province of Zhejiang of each of China’s 31 provinces to provide the information; 24 provinces had provided data by this January, according to the state-run Beijing News.
In total the data showed that they had charged 20 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) in total from citizens who violated the one-child policy in 2012. The other seven provinces failed to respond, including provinces like Anhui, which has a population of over 60 million.
But the compensation can hardly compare to those fine numbers.
In 2008, the government began offering 135 yuan ($21.60) as an “assistance fee” per person per month for families that had lost an only child. After a number of appeals and petitions, the assistance fee was raised slightly to 340 yuan ($54) for urban residents and 170 yuan ($27) for rural residents, since this January.
But parents want an equivalence between the fine and the compensation. “There’s a law for charging fees for violating the one-child policy, so there should also be laws to compensate those who follow the policy. Obligations and the protection of rights should go together,” the petition said.
60 With Toddler Twins
Sadness and loneliness are the cause of the greatest suffering for the parents who have lost their only children. But 60-year-old Guo Min took matters into her own hands in an extraordinary manner: she is now mother of 4-year-old twins, according to Chinese media reports.
Unable to bear the panic of losing her only daughter in a car accident in 2005, Guo decided to attempt an embryo transfer procedure, and successfully gave birth to twins—a boy and a girl—in 2011, when she was 56.
But that also brought a financial burden, and the 1,800 yuan ($288) monthly pension from her retirement is far from enough to raise a family in Beijing. Guo now juggles part-time accounting jobs, which pay 300–400 yuan a month.
For years heavy-handed propaganda has promoted the one-child policy—but what the regime has promised over the years has changed.
A newspaper headline in 1985 said, “Only have one child, and the government will take care of you when you are old.” In 2005, one word was tweaked: the government will “help” take care of you when you’re old. In 2012, it became “postpone your retirement, and you take care of yourself.” In 2013, it was: “mortgage your house to take care of yourself when you get old.”
Photos of these contrasting slogans have gone viral on the Internet.