One-child policy relaxed after quake

Parents whose only child was killed or maimed in China’s earthquake will be allowed to have another, officials who administer the country’s one-child policy said today.

A certificate will be issued to affected parents allowing them to have another child, he Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee in Sichuan province said.

The May 12 quake was extra painful to many Chinese because it killed so many children.

The earthquake has killed more than 65,000 people, and with more than 23,000 missing the toll is expected to rise further. Officials say they haven’t been able to estimate the number of children killed.

A Chengdu committee official, who gave only his surname, Wang, said the one-child policy rules were being made specific to quake victims. But he described his comments as clarifying existing policy, rather than announcing changes, and he would not elaborate.

Though commonly called a one-child policy, the rules offer a welter of exceptions and loopholes, some of them put into practice because of widespread opposition to the limits.

For example, in large parts of rural China, most families are allowed a second child, especially if the first was a girl. Local officials often have wide discretion on enforcement, a fact that has made the policy susceptible to corruption.

Chen Xueyun is among the parents who could be affected. His eight-year-old son, Weixi, was killed when the family’s apartment in Qingchuan collapsed.

Mr Chen said he searched for three days before finding the boy’s body. He wears his son’s blue plastic watch, as a reminder.

Mr Chen said today’s announcement could offer parents some hope – after their grief subsides.

“If they are still sad and depressed, it’s impossible to talk about another baby,” he said. “But in the future, it could be quite helpful for them.”

Today’s announcement affects the city of Chengdu, which has 10 million people, as well as two of the hardest-hit cities nearby, Dujiangyan and Pengzhou. The committee plans to help about 1,200 of the worst-hit families, but that number could change, Mr Wang said.

It wasn’t clear whether other cities in the quake zone, including Qingchuan, would make similar announcements.

China’s one-child policy was launched in the late 1970s to control China’s exploding population and ensure better education and healthcare. The law includes certain exceptions for ethnic groups, rural families and families where both parents are only children.

The government says the policy has prevented an additional 400 million births, but critics say it has also led to forced abortions, sterilisations and a dangerously imbalanced sex ratio as local authorities pursue sometimes severe birth quotas set by Beijing and families abort girls out of a traditional preference for male heirs.

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