Compiled by Vic Chiang
According to China’s Sixth National Population Census in 2010, there are about 13 million people who do not have a hukou, a household registration document that ensures citizen rights to attend school, receive health care, marry, find legal jobs or even buy train tickets. As the Chinese government waived the notorious one-child policy and introduced the new “two-child policy” at the start of 2016, concerns still remain for those who dream to become legal residents in China. Can these people really be granted legal status by their own country?
Distrust towards the new regulation
New York Times reports, Cindy Zhang and her husband have been worrying about their younger child Tutu’s residential status ever since he was born three years ago. If they wanted to get Tutu a hukou, they were told by officials in Beijing that they had to pay a 300,000 RMB (approximately US$46,000) fine for violating the one-child policy. This is an amount the couple can not afford.
On January 14, China’s State Council announced a new directive, ordering local governments to come up with a measure to register hukous for all citizens. It said it was a basic right for all Chinese citizens, and would prohibit any conditions set to bar them from obtaining a hukou.
However, Zhang worries that if she goes and applies for a hukou for her child, she would still be forced to pay the fine first. Her concern is not an overreaction; Cheng, a 43-year-old Beijing resident who had his second child been born in last July says to the New York Times, “I’m now worried the local government might use the new directive as a trap to fine us once they learn we have a second child.”
According to Beijing Youth Daily, Ma Li, a member of the State Council says that families that violated the family planning policy and gave birth to two or more children before January 1, 2016 should still be punished. This statement contradicts the government’s plan to include the status-lacked 13 million people into the hukou system. Moreover, to enforce the law, the government may even take stronger measures and take the illegal parents to the court.
Until now, it is still unsure whether families that violated the policy before should pay the fine. On January 11, the State Council has announced that for those who have already paid the fine, they could not reverse the previous verdict. As for those who haven’t, it is up to the local government to make the decision in each province. Nevertheless, since the detailed regulations have yet to be introduced, it leaves great room for local governments to decide on their own.
Legal loopholes in the shift of policies
Sina reports, in response to this standoff, Wang Ma-li, a resident in Hubei province, has taken the initiative to be the first one in her province to bring the local Family Planning Commission to court.
Same as Zhang, Wang’s second child is already eight months old, but still doesn’t have a hukou. After being tracked down by the local government, she soon received a penalty ticket that required her to pay a 100,000 RMB (approximately US$15,000) fine. However, Wang refused to pay the fine.
Wang says that the penalty ticket was sent in January this year, right after the new two-child policy took effect. She argues that the penalty ticket should abide by the current regulation instead of the old one. With the new regulations still in a mist, it is not legitimate for the government to fine her.
“I do not want to run away. If I run, I’ll need to live in hiding,” says Wang. Officials from the local Family Planning Commission have already sent people to her house to put pressure on her, and asked her to delete her post on Weibo about her story. Wang’s appeal has been approved by the local court, and she will have to fight against the government on her own.
Common Wealth Magazine points out, according to the UN’s Convention related to the Status of Stateless Persons, it requires contracting parties to offer the stateless persons the same minimum rights as foreigners. However, the people who lack hukous in China have to hide in the shadows and are cut off from all access to the basic rights of a citizen.
As China embraces a more liberal family planning policy, more concerns have been raised regarding the legal status of the people who have previously given birth to more than one child. Registering the 13 million people into the hukou system has long been China’s major goal, and some people start questioning the regulation’s legitimacy while waiting for the Chinese government’s final decision.
Edited by Olivia Yang