Despite defeat, academic remains defiant against unfair one-child policy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 4:12pm

A prominent legal academic who lost a two-year legal battle against a big fine for breaking the one-child policy said he stood by his decision to fight for his rights.

After two rulings against him, including a failed appeal early last month, his bank account was frozen and a Beijing court withdrew more than 240,000 yuan (HK$295,000) on April 24.

'I've never regretted my decision, because the family-planning policy is inhumane and has artificially distorted the country's demographics, and the fines to enforce such policies are worse,' said Yang Zhizhu, who was an associate professor of law at China Youth University for Political Sciences before he was fired in April 2010 for breaking the family-planning policy the previous December when his wife had their second daughter.

Violators of the one-child policy - in effect since 1979 - face fines equivalent to three to 10 times the average disposable income (after taxes) of city residents, based on figures from the year before the violation occurs.

Yang, a strong critic of the mainland's policy, was ordered to pay nine times the average. The large fine levied against him has reignited a debate among scholars over the logic and transparency of the controversial penalties, better known as 'social maintenance fees'.

There is scant data on how much authorities have collected in fines for violations, as well as where all the money has gone since they were introduced.

However, in Anhui provincial authorities said in a report on administrative fees they collected in 2010 that the fines were up 61 per cent from 2009, to 845 million yuan.

He Yafu, an independent demographics analyst in Guangdong, said that by his estimates, which were based on limited official statistics, the total fines issued for family-planning-policy violations nationwide were 1.5 trillion to 2 trillion yuan since 1980. He said 65 to 80 per cent of fines had been left in the hands of family-planning authorities, opening the door to corruption.

'They're collecting the fines like running a highly profitable business with little transparency,' he added.

But Yang stresses that such estimates are just that, as even official statistics are flawed over the number of violations and fines collected.

He said family-planning authorities had largely turned a blind eye to illicit deals for quotas, which result in some couples selling their right to a child for up to 50,000 yuan.

'Frankly, the family-planning policy is depriving poor families of children and the middle-class families of money, while it has little impact on the wealthy,' Yang said, noting that the rich can go overseas to have another child, or pay the fine.

The heated debate in recent years over the fines, coupled with rising dissent over the policy, has come amid heightened concerns over the mainland's rapidly ageing population and a dramatic decline in the number of births.

Professor Yuan Xin, who specialises in population studies at Nankai University, said such fines were justified in the current legal framework, but that did not mean they were sensible. 'The family planning policy is much more regulated than it was 20 years ago,' he said. 'But greater transparency would certainly help reduce irregularities.'

845m yuan

The amount, in yuan, family planning authorities in Anhui collected in fines in 2010 for breaching the one-child policy