Skip to main content

In China, some find ways to beat one-child policy

By Stan Grant, CNN
updated 1:59 PM EDT, Wed July 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China's one-child policy has been in place since 1979 to try to curb population growth
  • But many Chinese are now questioning the policy and skirting the law
  • Wealthy families pay fines or travel overseas to have a second child
  • There are increasing official signs that suggest China may relax the policy

Outside of Beijing, China (CNN) -- Something isn't quite right with this picture. There seem to be too many children here. Isn't this the country famed for its one-child policy? Aren't there big fines and penalties for having that second child?

A man is watching two children play. He says both of them are his.

"Many people here have more than one child. Some have four children," he adds.

This migrant workers' village on the outskirts of Beijing is typical of itinerant communities, where families are finding ways to beat the system.

The one-child policy has been in place since 1979 to try to curb China's population growth. It has worked -- some estimates say hundreds of millions of births have been averted.

And it hasn't been bad for the economy, either. As China has opened up, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty as the nation's economy grows faster than the population.

What in the world?
Woman forced to have abortion in China
Forced abortion sparks outcry in China

But there have always been loopholes. The wealthier families have paid fines, and some have traveled overseas to have a second child with a foreign passport. China's ethnic populations have been largely exempt as rural families have multiple children to help work the fields. Offspring of one-child families who then marry also may have more than one child.

Zakaria: Could China's one-child policy change?

In this migrant village, however, one father says he thinks this has always been an unfair policy.

"What has fairness got to do with it?" he says. "If you have more money, then you can have more children; and if you're poor, you only have one child."

He won't reveal his name and doesn't want his face photographed. But he is willing to talk.

He says people here sometimes pay brokers to bribe officials for documentation for additional children. It can cost up to $1,000 but is still much less than the official fine, which can be as high as 200,000 Renminbi, or more than $31,000.

In his case, he waited until his second child was born and registered both together as twins.

It is illegal, and he says people worry about being caught but are willing to take the risk.

Forced abortion sparks outrage, debate in China

The Zhang family decided to have a second child more than 20 years ago.

It certainly wasn't fashionable or patriotic. They paid a big price -- not just a hefty fine, but the father, Zhang Jian, even lost his job.

"Yes, once I had two kids, I lost my job. But I'm not scared of that, I don't care. The most important thing is to raise my kids. This is for happiness," he says.

His daughter Zhang Dongjuan is forever grateful for her parents' sacrifice.

If you have more money, then you can have more children; and if you're poor, you only have one child
Chinese father of two

"I am very happy. I'm the luckiest girl in the world," she says.

She shows me photos of her sister, now away from home working as a banker. They are very close, she says.

Dongjuan says her friends were always envious of her, and she's already planning to have two children when she marries.

"Yes, I think the policy should be finished, because we all have a lot of pressure if we have just one child," she says. "If we have two children, then four people can afford to look after two set of parents, we'll have less pressure."

There are growing calls for an end to the policy. Critics say China's population is aging and is heavily weighted toward male children. Eventually, they say this will have a serious impact on the country's economy and social cohesion.

On advertising billboards now there is a new image. One in Beijing promoting Chinese values -- patriotism and inclusiveness -- shows grandparents, parents and, yes, two children.

It is in stark contrast with another more horrifying image. Last month a photo appeared on the Internet and quickly went around the world showing the brutal side of the one-child policy: a mother forced into an abortion lying exhausted and disheveled on her hospital bed, beside her a fully formed fetus.

Between these two images -- the new Chinese poster family and the exhausted mother -- lies the reality of a policy that has defined China for three decades, but is now being questioned.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
updated 11:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
updated 10:29 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
updated 3:07 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT