Fifteen mainland scholars and businessmen have called for an overhaul of the one-child policy, arguing it violates the constitution's guarantee of human rights.
The group, which includes eight law professors, made the request in a letter submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Thursday.
'The current Population and Family Planning Law stresses controlling the size of the population, and a statutory approval system on family planning based on the law violates clauses on the protection of human rights contained in China's constitution,' said the letter submitted by Professor Zhan Zhongle from the Peking University Law School.
The petition argues that penalising families that have a second child with heavy fines and dismissal from work seriously violates citizens' rights to procreation.
Allowing rural families and ethnic minorities to have a second child amounted to discrimination against urban dwellers and those of Han ethnicity.
Zhan, who drafted the letter, said few people challenged the policy on the basis it violated human rights. He admitted the angle was sensitive and could irritate authorities.
'The law that was introduced 30 years ago has to be amended in light of fundamental changes in Chinese society,' Zhan said, referring to the revelation last month that a 22-year-old mother was forced to abort a seven-month-old fetus.
Mainland media often report on would-be mothers forced by officials to terminate pregnancies under the one-child policy. The World Health Organisation estimates more than 14 million forced abortions occur on the mainland every year, accounting for a quarter of the total number of abortions worldwide.
A couple from Hebei province sued officials in 2007 after the would-be mother was forced seven years earlier to terminate a pregnancy in the ninth month. The head of the fetus was so large the doctor had to crush it to complete the procedure.
In the case last month, Feng Jianmei was taken to a hospital in Shaanxi where doctors induced labour, leading to the death of the fetus, after she and her husband failed to pay a 40,000 yuan (HK$48,800) fine for violating the one-child rule. Photos of the dead fetus alongside a despondent Feng were posted online, triggering a public outcry.
Li Jianxin , a professor in Peking University's sociology department, is one of the signatories to the petition. Li said the central government should give couples back what is a fundamental right.
'It's not about having a second child at all,' he said. 'What we're trying to say is authorities should return the decision-making rights to a couple, about whether they want to have a child or not and how many children they want to have.'
The letter was released days after three researchers from the State Council's Development Research Centre made a high-profile call for a relaxation of the policy. They blamed stringent family-planning policies for challenges the mainland now faces, including a rapidly ageing population and a labour shortage.
forced abortions are carried out on the mainland every year
- This is a quarter of the total number of abortions worldwide