How should Jiangsu officials punish scrap collector who had 10 children?
Plight of scrap collector highlights problems with fining family planning violations
In a nation famous for its strictly enforced one-child policy, the case of a Jiangsu scrap collector who had 10 children presents authorities with a problem.
Officials are unsure how to punish Liu Xiangming, because, as one official admitted, "no matter how much he is fined, he won't be able to afford it".
Liu's punishment could come to hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of yuan. But the financial penalty would be meaningless for a man long trapped in poverty.
Liu, 58, makes a living collecting rubbish in the suburbs of Suzhou . He has not returned to his hometown of Pizhou in Jiangsu, about 500km away, for 18 years, the Beijing Times reported the man as saying.
Liu's 10 children - four boys and six girls - were aged between two months and 21 years old. The family had lived quietly until local media recently reported the seventh child, a five-year-old boy, had accidentally drowned in a pond near their home.
The couple's first child was born in Pizhou and the rest in Suzhou after they left in the hopes of earning more money elsewhere. The scrap collector said he helped deliver the babies in shacks he rented, using a piece of broken ceramic bowl disinfected with alcohol to cut the umbilical cords.
Only the first child has permanent residency documents, known as hukou. The births of the others were not approved by authorities. None has received much education.
Liu's wife told the Beijing Times she often kept the children locked inside their hut and the two oldest ones worked in factories.
The family is the epitome of the city's marginalised class. With each person able to earn only a meagre income, the parents often have more children. They are often referred to as "guerillas with more children than the government allows", for their ability to stay under the radar of family-planning officials.
Couples who breach the family-planning policy have to pay a fee as the cost to society for raising an additional child. This is usually three to six times the region's average annual income. But if couples earn more, the penalty is adjusted.
Family-planning officials reportedly collect more than 20 billion yuan from those caught violating the policy each year.
Many cities require couples pay the fines before granting hukou to their additional children - a practice that has been publicly criticised, because children without it cannot be enrolled in schools, among other restrictions. In Liu's case, the officials' dilemma is apparent. He cannot afford the sum, and fining him would result in public criticism authorities are bullying the vulnerable. But doing nothing would be unfair to other families who have already paid their fines.
In some cities, the penalty for having an extra child can be more than 200,000 yuan (HK$252,000). If the parents work in government departments or state-owned enterprises, they can also lose their jobs.
But in rural areas, the size of the fee is often negotiated down, which in turn leads to more people violating the law.
It is high time authorities review the policy given its implementation has often led to injustice and corruption.