Parents of newborn babies in southern China's Guangdong Province will no longer have to prove they obediently limited, through any means including forced abortion, the size of their nuclear families.
In the latest example of a gradual easing of the controversial one-child policy, police officers at the province's Public Security Bureau recently stopped demanding to see family-planning compliance certificates before registering "hukou," or household registration, for babies.
After the policy change was publicly announced in July, non-certified parents who had disobeyed the old rule but failed to register their babies flocked to apply for hukous. Some even waited in hours-long lines.
Some parents said they hurried to register out of fear that the policy easing might be temporary, even though authorities had insisted it was permanent. Many recalled that Guangdong birth control rules were temporarily waived during nationwide census counts in 2000 and 2010. Parents who had babies in those years could apply for hukous without impunity.
A father in the province's largest city, Guangzhou surnamed, said he was so worried that the latest easing might be temporary that he quickly applied for a hukou for his second son, who is now more than 3 years old.
Other non-certified parents, though, said they would wait to register for a hukou in hopes authorities would further relax the rules. Many feared registering a child without a certificate, even under the latest adjustment, could eventually lead to fines equal to as much as six times a family's annual income
About half of the 13 million people without a hukou in 2010 – the year of the most recent nationwide census – were born in violation of the one-child policy, census officials said. As a result, they were ineligible for schooling and not covered by the social welfare system. A person without a hukou cannot even board a train. A hukou is a requirement for anyone in China who wants vital government services, including health care and education.
Yang Wenzhuang, head of the family planning department at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said at a July 2014 press conference that it's from a legal standpoint inconsistent to link obeying birth control rules with access to basic public services through the hukou system.
For decades, the promises and prohibitions have not stopped most government agencies around the country from using the hukou registration process as a weapon for enforcing birth-control policies
In 2013, the rule was relaxed further to allow a second child if either father or mother was a single child. Local governments started implementing the policy last year.
The central government has for years been hinting at much more dramatic policy easing, noting that the nation's labor pool is rapidly aging. And some governments, at national and local levels, have for years officially prohibited the practice of denying hukous to babies whose parents violated the one-child policy.
parents can register for a child's hukou with merely a hospital birth certificate and their own identification documents. However, he noted, police still share hukou registration information with the family planning agency for the latter to track families' obedience to population rules.
How are family planning officials reacting? On August 5, Guangdong Family Planning Commission officials said they would ask a court to order parents who break the rules – including parents who now register babies for hukous – to pay all the necessary fines, which are around 200,000 yuan per child born against the rules.
Some experts say the commission's case will fall flat. A legal source at a Guangdong court said the family planning commission may be forced to pursue fines against parents on its own, without any judicial support. The reason, he said, is tied to the fact that the country's courts are in the midst of a reform campaign that's reducing court involvement in law enforcement.
A family planning official who also asked not to be named admitted that population controls are weakening now that the rules have been changed in Guangdong and elsewhere.
The central government is also moving toward relaxing the powerful grip that family planning agencies have been exercising over parents for the past 35 years. One argument for scrapping the one-child policy is that recent adjustments giving more parents permission to have a second child has not led to as many births as hoped.
In fact, a 2012 report by the China Development Research Foundation, an agency under the State Council's Development Research Center, said the country should further liberalize the one-child policy this year and abandon it by 2020.