By Christine Cai | 2012-11-2 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
COUPLES will face penalties in some cases if they have a child born outside China's mainland in violation of the nation's family planning law, according to a rule that takes effect next year in the southern Shenzhen City.
Penalties would apply when registering such a child or keeping the child in the mainland for 18 months within two years - if both members of a couple are registered residents in Shenzhen or one is registered in Shenzhen and the another elsewhere in the mainland.
The population and family rule in Shenzhen makes it clear that delivering a child not allowed by China's family planning policy overseas is illegal, officials said.
Each spouse of the couple would be fined three times the average income in Shenzhen in the previous year. For example, if the rule were in effect this year, a couple would have to pay 219,030 yuan (US$34,767) for such a child.
For additional children over legal limits, the penalty would be multiplied by the number of such children. People who have incomes higher than the average will also face higher fines, the rule states.
Officials from the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission said the idea is not new, as the national population commission has had the same policy for years.
Shenzhen, however, may be the first one to codify it in its local law, giving it more legal power, experts said. The issue is particularly pressing in the city, which is close to Hong Kong, making it easier for local residents to go overseas to deliver children and avoid the mainland's strict one-child policy.
A Shanghai population official said Shenzhen residents represent the majority of mainland people delivering children in Hong Kong, while there are only sporadic cases in other cities due to the distance.
Even though written into the local law, some Shenzhen residents interviewed by local media said collecting evidence about children born overseas is difficult, which may make it hard to enforce the law.
The mainland's family planning policies allow couples to have a second child under a few conditions, such as when both spouses are from a one-child family and the first child has a non-inherited disease. In some provinces, rural couples are allowed to have a second child if their first child is a girl.
As Shenzhen announces tough sanctions, a Chinese government think tank has called on the central government to consider adjusting its family planning policy, as structural problems such as having the average age of the population rise too fast have overtaken excessive growth as the most significant population-related problem.
According to a report issued by the think tank last Friday, problems caused by the one-child policy such as the population's age and distribution have become increasingly visible and will have a profound impact on China's future social and economic development.
The China Development Research Foundation report said the government should gradually loosen the one-child policy in regions where family planning has been strictly implemented, such as in urban areas. By 2015, there will be no need to continue birth planning, as people will make more rational decisions on birth issues, the foundation said.
Officials from Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission said population experts have long called for loosening the strict one-child policy.
"The government is actually contradictory in announcing that it is insisting on its family planning policy while planning on stabilizing the country's total birth rate at 1.8," said Sun Changmin, vice director of Shanghai's population commission.
Total birth rate is the number of children a woman bears in her entire life.
"The total birth rate in China is only 1.2 and below 0.9 in Shanghai," Sun said. "If allowing each couple to have only one child, how can we realize the ideal total birth rate?"