The Unsettling Reality for Unwed Mothers in China

By Angelina Kaneva

International Women's Initiative Staff Writer

(Photo Credit)

International Women’s Initiative has already been trying hard to raise awareness of the issue with the contentious and, despite government efforts to convince people of the opposite, still utterly unfair Two Child Policy which now applies to all couples in China.

The Two Child Policy has been a long-awaited change that was prompted by concerns over China’s rapidly aging, mostly male-dominated, population. Regardless of the reasons behind introducing the new law on family planning and all that is wrong with it, it admittedly does allow for a little more freedom and does grant at least a certain degree of control to married women over their own fertility.

And yet, what about unmarried women? The law regarding them has not changed. In China, single motherhood is punished with significant fines. An unwed woman with a child needs to pay a “social maintenance” fee to the family planning authorities, which varies in different regions and can be between one to six times the local average annual salary. In addition, although a single mother can still give birth in a hospital, she will have to pay everything out of her own pocket as the state does not provide the so-called “reproductive insurance” for unmarried women.

Even without the government-imposed hurdles and all the administrative difficulties, pregnancy out of wedlock carries an unshakable stigma that is arguably equally, if not even more, overwhelming. While sex outside marriage was made legal in 1997, having a child without being married is still frowned upon and perceived as socially disgraceful.

It is thus not hard to see where all this would lead. Very few single women expecting a baby actually keep it – most of them either abort it or abandon it out of fear of the financial burden they would have to deal with, out of concern of being renounced by their families or simply out of shame to face society.

Even the very few examples, in which unmarried women are determined to be brave and keep their children, often turn into upsetting stories of mothers giving birth “in secret”, mostly outside hospitals and in deplorable conditions, that can lead to complications for both them and their newly-borns. As an organisation dedicating much of its efforts on preventing postnatal complications that arise from unsanitary birthing conditions, we are deeply concerned by the situation in China.

A heartbreaking example of all this is the Sewer Baby case from several years ago in which “after unexpectedly giving birth alone in her bathroom, [the] baby’s unmarried mother accidentally let the child slip from her hands into the sewer pipe. Wanting to hide evidence of the birth, the mother then flushed the blood, along with her child, down the sewer. Even after rescuers pried the baby from the sewer pipe and provided medical treatment, this mother refused to claim the child as her own”.

No mother, whether married or not, should ever be put in such position. We urge the Chinese government to reassess its family planning policy, abandon the discriminatory laws that impose fines on single mothers and virtually prevent them from delivering safely in a hospital, and start working on ways of changing society’s view of those women.