Cablegate: Carrots and Sticks in China's Enforcement of Family

Published: Wed 30 Sep 2009 08:49 AM
DE RUEHBJ #2808/01 2730849
R 300849Z SEP 09
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A) BEIJING 2795 B) BEIJING 2187 C) STATE 77549
D) 07 STATE 2855 E) 07 GUANGZHOU 589 F) 07 GUANGZHOU 608
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Beijing experts on family planning assert that
China's family planning efforts have broadened beyond population
targets and include a number of programs and strategies emphasizing
a more incentive-based and service-oriented approach. Targets
remain, however, as do heavy financial and administrative penalties
for unauthorized or 'out-of-plan' births, while structural
incentives in the family planning monitoring and evaluation system
may also trigger coercive enforcement in some regions. At the same
time, the Central Government has instituted a number of rural social
subsidy programs, which include monthly stipends and other
preferential benefits for those who meet family planning
regulations. The government is making efforts to improve the
accessibility and quality of family planning and reproductive health
services, particularly for migrants, as well as making it possible
for migrants to comply with family planning regulations without
burdensome travel. END SUMMARY
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2. (SBU) China's family planning policies are implemented at the
provincial level and both regulations and the degree to which they
are enforced vary. A key part of enforcement is a financial
penalty, called a "social compensation fee," for unauthorized
births. These 'out-of-plan' births include having too many
children, having children out-of-wedlock, early-age childbirth, or
having another child before the end of a mandated birth spacing
3. (SBU) In a July 30 meeting with ESTHOff, the United Nations
Population Fund's (UNFPA) Deputy Representative Mariam Khan
explained that because social compensation fees are stipulated in
the 2002 National Family Planning Law, they are seen by local family
planning officials as irrevocable unless the law is amended or
replaced. Khan noted, however, that the implementation of these
fees is left up to local authorities, so the fee structure, the
violations that incur them and the degree and method of enforcement
varies by province and even by county. Social compensation fees are
generally set as a multiple of average annual disposable or gross
income in that area, with different formulas for different
violations. The burden on a couple can be much greater than the
fine alone, since additional disciplinary measures may include loss
of government subsidized health benefits, job loss or demotion, loss
of promotion opportunity, expulsion from the Communist Party, and
other administrative punishments.
4. (SBU) The flexibility permitted in fee structures used means the
seriousness of financial penalties varies widely across locations.
Social compensation fees are levied per person so both the husband
and wife must pay. Current Beijing family planning regulations
stipulate that for the first out-of-plan child, each person must pay
three to ten times Beijing's average per capita disposable income of
the previous year, or three to ten times his or her own actual
disposable income, whichever is higher (NOTE: Disposable income is
calculated for China's urban areas only and is a person's gross
annual income minus income tax, contributions to social security,
and other compulsory expenditures. END NOTE). For a second
unauthorized child the fine basis is doubled. The per person fine
for an out-of-wedlock birth in Beijing is equal to the annual
average per capita disposable income, while a birth spacing
violation incurs a fine of 20 percent of the annual average per
capita disposable income.
5. (SBU) Hunan Province revised their regulations in September 2007,
increasing the per person social compensation fee for the first
unauthorized birth from two times the provincial annual average per
capita gross income or the person's actual annual gross income,
whichever is higher, to a range of two to six times that income.
(NOTE: Hunan Province does not calculate for disposable income as
Beijing does. END NOTE) In Hunan, the basis for the fine for a
second out-of-plan child is triple that of the first unauthorized
6. (SBU) UNFPA's Khan told ESTHOffs that UNFPA is making progress in
encouraging the relaxation of social compensation fees. Khan said
that UNFPA's strategy is to work within the provisions of the
National Family Planning Law to minimize the impact of the fees in
the drafting of regulations at the local level. Among UNFPA's 30
project counties (one in each province and municipality), 12
counties have already agreed to adopt the lowest fines permitted by
the provincial regulations. UNFPA is also working with counties to
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remove certain categories of violations. For example, 20 of the 30
project counties have removed birth spacing requirements, and
therefore the associated fees. Thirteen provinces across China have
eliminated birth spacing requirements altogether. Khan further
noted that UNFPA is working toward eliminating the practice of
penalizing out-of-wedlock births by encouraging family planning
officials to address that issue through improved premarital and
adolescent reproductive health education, instead of through
punitive measures. According to Khan, current family planning
services and campaigns that provide contraceptive information are
targeted primarily at married couples.
7. (SBU) Social compensation fees have been reported in the press as
a social justice issue. The media have carried articles criticizing
the fact that wealthy and famous couples in China are able to have
more children by simply paying the fines, or going overseas to have
a second child. A June 2009 article in an international newspaper
cited that between 2001 and 2008, nearly 78,000 babies were born in
Hong Kong to parents registered as living on the Mainland. Family
planning authorities have also complained publicly that their
policies are being undermined by China's growing middle and upper
classes, who, in many cases do not rely on government largess and
therefore are less likely to feel burdened when paying existing
penalties. The former Minister of the National Population and
Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) ZHANG Weiqing was described as
saying there is "a huge shadow over the policy" and "growing
resentment among poorer families" due to this phenomenon. Local
officials have attempted to address this issue by increasing fines
for the wealthy and taking other measures targeted at their
reputations. For example, in Beijing, individuals can be banned
from winning national awards or can be publicly named in the media
for violations, even if they have paid the requisite fees.
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8. (SBU) Although "abusive" enforcement of family planning policies
is prohibited under the 2002 Population and Family Planning Law,
according to Peking University (PKU) Population Studies professors
CHEN Gong and MU Guangzong, there are aspects of current family
planning practice and management that could exacerbate coercive
enforcement. NPFPC reported to ESTHOffs recently that since 2006,
they have revised the evaluation criteria of family planning
officials to focus more on customer satisfaction, with attention
paid to "client needs" and "human rights". However, population
targets are still a performance indicator for local family planning
officials. In a July 24 meeting, Chen and Mu told ESTHOffs that
China's system of setting successive targets from the highest level
of government down to the lowest creates enormous added pressure on
local officials. As the two scholars explained, in setting targets
for low population growth or low birth rates, each level of
government sets a target for the lower level that gives them a
comfortable buffer for achieving their own target, resulting in the
targets becoming more extreme and difficult to achieve at the lowest
levels. Mu and Chen note that this requires local family planning
officials to come up with "new schemes" to try and reach their
targets, which may include special incentive programs, but could
also include coercive measures. In addition, Mu and Chen
speculated, this system has resulted in local officials aggressively
pursuing low birth rates without considering long term demographic
consequences, for example, the extremely low fertility rates of
around 1.2 in some areas.
9. (SBU) Certain monitoring and enforcement practices force couples
to choose either to have an induced abortion or pay the heavy
financial and administrative penalties associated with an
out-of-plan birth. Many localities require regular pregnancy
testing for women of child bearing age who are not eligible to have
more children. (NOTE: The pregnancy check or reproductive health
check-up is a common practice, especially in localities with
population pressure. Local officials sometimes conduct the
check-ups under the name of "providing family planning services."
END NOTE.) In several provinces, including Anhui, Hebei,
Heilongjiang, Hubei, Hunan, Jilin, Liaoning, and Ningxia, local
family planning regulations explicitly call for the "termination of
pregnancy" upon discovery of an unauthorized pregnancy, without
additional guidance on how to enforce this rule.
10. (SBU) Although most sources agree that there are probably cases
of coercive local family planning enforcement that violate the law,
it is very difficult to find reports or documentation of such abuses
unless they have occurred on a large scale. One prominent case of
coercive enforcement was reported in 2007 in Guangxi Province, where
alleged abuses by local officials triggered a series of riots (REFS
D/E/F). According to press reports at the time, Bobai County
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officials, facing administrative penalties for their poor family
planning performance, launched a campaign to reign in excess births
with "steely determination, steely methods and steely discipline"
against violators. The mayor of one city in Bobai was also quoted
as calling for the stabilization of the low birth rate "by all means
necessary." The new regulations and penalties that were reported by
the local media included much higher fines, seizure of property
including furniture, livestock, and rice stores if fines were not
paid, and targeted sterilization. Family planning teams were also
reported to have destroyed personal property and homes in the
process of collecting fines. Press coverage further noted that
resentment over these measures was heaped on top of public anger at
the double standard of local officials who over time had elected to
have excess children with impunity. Following the riots, NPFPC
issued an official statement that said they were investigating the
case of Bobai County and would "deal with" the situation. In
January 2008, Chinese media reported that 104 Bobai County officials
had been dismissed from their positions, due to personal violations
of family planning regulations including having had unauthorized
children. None of the dismissals, however, were directly attributed
to malfeasance in enforcement of family planning regulations.
(COMMENT: The fact that this case was reported in the state-owned
and state-controlled media signals that there was high-level
government or Party dissatisfaction with Bobai County officials for
allowing family planning enforcement to trigger social unrest. END
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11. (SBU) An important shift in family planning enforcement since
2006 has been the diversification of methods for achieving family
planning objectives. In his work report to the National People's
Congress (NPC) in March 2008, Premier Wen Jiabao emphasized the
expansion of rewards and subsidies, noting, "we will fully implement
the special assistance system for families that comply with family
planning regulations, extend the coverage of the reward system for
rural families that comply with the regulations, implement the
'fewer births equals faster prosperity' project in more areas, and
raise the level of rewards and assistance." Targeting poor rural
areas, these national subsidy programs, or "Three Systems to Improve
People's Livelihood" are seen as offering both positive incentives
for complying with family planning policies and a means of
supporting a rural social security system.
12. (SBU) Within China's family planning regulatory framework, the
broadest and longest-standing subsidy is the Social Support Program,
in which individuals who have complied with family planning policies
(by having borne only the allowed number of children) receive a
monthly cash stipend beginning at age 60 for both men and women.
This stipend is seen as both a reward for compliance with family
planning rules and an extra resource for supporting rural old-age
social security. (NOTE: In rural areas, where the elderly rely
primarily on their families for care and support, this social
support compensates couples who have had one child for the loss of
resources they might traditionally have received from their many
children. END NOTE) Piloted in 2004, this basic subsidy was
implemented nationally in 2006. By the end of 2008, 8.33 million
individuals had qualified for this subsidy, with a total of RMB 5.2
billion (USD 761.5 million) in rewards distributed. Beginning in
January 2009, the amount of the social subsidy payment increased
from RMB 600 (USD 88) per person per year to RMB 720 (USD 105).
(NOTE: According to the government's annual Statistical Communique,
in 2008, China's annual per capita net income for rural households
was RMB 4,761 (USD 697), with over 40 million rural Chinese living
below the poverty line with an annual per capita net income below
RMB 1,196 (USD 175). Since the family planning social subsidy is
awarded to each person individually, a couple qualifying for the
award would receive a combined RMB 1,440 (USD 210) per year, which
would represent a sizeable proportion of a rural household income.
END NOTE) Deputy Director General RU Xiaomei of NPFPC's
International Cooperation Department told ESTHOffs during a July 31
meeting that there have been proposals to move up the eligibility
for receiving rewards to age 50, to further sweeten the incentive.
13. (SBU) Another subsidy program, known as the "Fewer Births
Equals Faster Prosperity" program, is aimed at giving poor rural
families who have fewer children than they are entitled an economic
boost through incentives, such as lump sum cash awards, loans to
invest in income-generating activities, or free job training. The
program now includes eight provinces and autonomous regions in
western China including Inner Mongolia, Hainan, Sichuan, Yunnan,
Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia and Xinjiang. In 2008, the government
expanded the scope of the program's target group from "couples who
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can have three children but voluntarily have one child less" to
"couples who can have three children but voluntarily have one child
or two children less," offering greater awards and an earlier
opportunity for eligibility, and an added incentive for those
households in poor western provinces to limit their family size. A
precondition for this subsidy is that couples must submit a written
"commitment," or contract, that they will not have more children, as
well as submit documentation from a hospital or family planning
clinic that sterilization or some other long-term contraceptive
method has been carried out. Between 2006 and 2008, the program
enrolled 280,000 individuals with a total of RMB 840 million (USD
123 million) in rewards disbursed. If a couple in the program is
found to have an additional child they must pay back all benefits
14. (SBU) The most recently-established social subsidy, known as the
"Special Assistance Program," is awarded to parents in cases where
their only child has suffered a serious disability or death.
Initially piloted in 10 provinces, implementation of the special
assistance program was extended nationally starting in 2008. The
assistance fund is RMB 80-100 per person per month after the mother
reaches age 49. The theory is that the subsidy will help support
parents whose child is rendered unable to work or provide for his
parents in old age; thus, couples who later give birth to or adopt
another child lose eligibility for the reward. By the end of 2008,
this special subsidy has assisted about 157,000 couples and
distributed RMB 170 million (USD 25 million) in assistance funds.
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15. (SBU) Peking University (PKU) Professor CHEN Gong told ESTHOffs
that an important shift beginning in 2008 was an increased emphasis
on equality in the provision of family planning services, including
a special focus on making basic family planning services, such as
regular gynecological examinations, prenatal checkups, and
postpartum visits, more freely available to rural and migrant women.
At a national conference on rural family planning work in December
2007, then NPFPC Minister ZHANG Weiqing released findings that over
60 percent of family planning violations were committed by the
migrant population, highlighting the Central Government's concerns
over the lack of a system for managing family planning among
migrants. Migrants also have been reported to receive unsafe or
poor quality services because of their inability to access free
public services near their place of temporary residence. In his
2008 work report to the NPC, Premier Wen emphasized the twin goals
to "improve services for the floating population and to tighten
supervision of them to ensure that they comply with the family
planning policy."
16. (SBU) The State Council recently released a new set of national
family planning regulations for the migrant population, to become
effective October 1, 2009. The new regulations make family planning
services including reproductive health information and services,
contraceptive devices, and family planning technical services
available and free to migrants in their temporary residences.
Previously, migrants were often forced to return to the place of
their legal household registrations (hukou) to receive services.
(NOTE: China's "hukou" system limits the ability of many of Chinese
citizens to access public services in places other than the
government-authorized place where their household is registered.
Changing this location on record is time consuming and difficult,
and most of the 100+ million migrant workers in China have simply
chosen to forgo access to services in exchange for better employment
opportunities. END NOTE)
17. (SBU) In addition to basic services, the new regulation
specifically allows migrants to register for the "birth service
certificate" (REF A) of a first child (which can now be obtained
after conception but is required in order to receive access to free
or subsidized prenatal care and delivery services) in their place of
temporary residence, easing the burden on migrants who previously
had to make a long and expensive journey back home to register.
Migrants still have to return to their original hukou location to
apply for permission to have a second child, unless before migrating
they had already obtained permission from family planning
authorities in their hometowns. Babies born are still registered as
residents of their parents' official hukou location, with migrant
status from birth.
18. (SBU) The new regulation also establishes communications
channels between family planning authorities at both the temporary
residence and at registered "hukou" locations. The regulation
specifically prohibits authorities from requiring migrants to return
to their hometowns for check-ups on contraceptive and pregnancy
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status, stating that these regular pregnancy tests for monitoring
unauthorized pregnancy should be conducted at the place of temporary
residence. The results would later be reported back to the
hometowns by the family planning officials who administer them.
(COMMENT: In addition to providing a mechanism for local family
planning officials to manage and monitor practices among migrants,
officials in each location ("hukou" and temporary) would likely use
this system to exchange information on a migrant's compliance
record. END COMMENT)
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19. (SBU) NPFPC's DDG Ru explained to ESTHOffs that in addition to
increasing the accessibility of basic family planning services for
migrants, the government is also taking steps to improve the quality
of family planning service delivery mechanisms by adding social
workers to local family planning teams, which currently include only
administrative and medical staff. According to Ru, the social
workers are expected to go beyond providing technical services.
Social workers will play a "guidance" and "counseling" role and
provide family planning advice, including information about
20. (SBU) Like PKU's Chen and Mu, Khan also noted China's growing
emphasis on quality of care and service. Khan described UNFPA's
work in advocacy and capacity building for informed choice over
birth control methods. According to Khan, the choice of
contraceptive method in China is traditionally determined by family
planning officials. Under the model UNFPA is working to implement,
couples should be provided at least three options for birth control,
with the pros and cons of each method clearly explained before the
couple is asked to make a choice. Khan argued that both penalties
for unauthorized births and financial incentives for limiting family
size are only short term solutions to family planning. Khan noted
these policies also should follow a rights-based approach that
emphasizes greater awareness of options and the consequences of
different choices.
21. (SBU) Khan also told ESTHOffs that a related objective of
UNFPA's work in improving quality of service delivery is to increase
the range and flexibility of intervention options that family
planning officials pursue. A complicating factor in this effort is
that, at the county level, family planning falls under the Civil
Administration Bureau, so the officials in charge of implementing
service delivery often have an administrative rather than a public
health background. To promote a more rights-based approach to
family planning work that goes beyond low fertility rate targets,
Khan said UNFPA is raising awareness of the consequences of
extremely low fertility rates and is also working with NPFPC on
their current review and reform of management and evaluation
22. (SBU) COMMENT: While enforcement of family planning in China
continues to include punitive and coercive measures, since 2006, the
government has attempted to improve enforcement and compliance with
birth limitation restrictions by offering more positive incentives.
Reward and subsidy programs have been effective in increasing
compliance and participation in family planning among poor rural
households. China's growing affluence has resulted in increasing
numbers who can afford to freely make family planning decisions in
spite of existing penalties. Additional work on revising the
overall evaluation structure for family planning performance
remains, however, so that it does not create perverse incentives for
forceful and abusive enforcement of family planning rules.
Citizens' rights in this area, as well as more serious and even
criminal penalties against those who violate them, have yet to be
clearly defined at the central level. END COMMENT.
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