Facing new baby boom, China steps up rural enforcement of one-child policy

December 18, 1990|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING, CHINA — BEIJING -- China, facing a baby boom it does not need, is stepping up enforcement of its one-child-per-family policy in populous rural areas.

Although China's family planning campaigns have averted an estimated 200 million births over the last 20 years, top birth-control officials yesterday announced they will increase efforts to limit the rapid growth of the world's largest population -- growth that is straining the nation's resources and stalling its modernization.

They indicated the renewed campaign will focus on rural areas and certain populous provinces -- such as Anhui, Henan, Hubei and Hunan provinces in Central China -- where birth rates remain as high as China's overall birth rate more than a decade ago and are roughly double the current rates in some of the country's major cities.

The heightened birth-control drive is prompted by the initial results of China's national census this summer, which recently confirmed what had been suspected for several years: China, with 1.13 billion people in 1990, will likely overshoot by more than 100 million people its target of having no more than 1.2 billion people in the year 2000.

"Family planning work in the 1990s will still be arduous," said Peng Peiyun, the minister in charge of family planning, after noting the even worse news for family planning advocates: The children of China's last baby boom in the 1960s are of child-bearing age and producing another bulge of births.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Peng said, China hopes to reduce the average number of children from the 1989 rate of 2.35 per family to just two by the end of this decade. She said this will be accomplished by expanded educational programs, improved contraceptive methods and "voluntary compliance."

But a recent Hong Kong newspaper report from Henan province -- China's second most populous, where the birth rate is among the highest in the country -- said local officials enacted new rules last summer, imposing such high, continuing fines for illegal pregnancies that abortion may be the only option for many women.

Set by each district within the province, the fines for illegal pregnancies run as high as one-third of the average peasant's annual income, the report said. If an illegally pregnant woman refuses an abortion, the couple faces an additional fine of 20 percent for the child's first seven years.

Local Henan officials also have inaugurated sizable fines for women with one child not using an intrauterine device and for healthy men or women with two children not undergoing sterilization, the report said.

"China is such a big country and has so many family planning workers that I can't rule out the possibility that in some areas there are cases in which coercive methods are used," Mrs. Peng acknowledged. "However, once we know of these cases, we do our best to stop them."

In the early 1980s, China's last major birth-control crackdown

prompted widespread negative reaction here and abroad, forcing authorities to grant a large number of exceptions to the one-child-per-family policy.

Charges that over-eager local officials forced abortions and sterilizations also led the United States to cut off its funding of United Nations' population-control programs in China since the mid-1980s.

Stirling D. Scruggs, director of the U.N. Population Fund here, said that while he has heard of instances involving stiff fines for illegal pregnancies, he has not seen recent evidence of a return to the overtly coercive measures of the early 1980s.

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