Forced Abortion Case Settled for $11,000

A Shaanxi local government has reached a 70,600 yuan settlement with Deng Jiyuan and Feng Jianmei, who were illegally forced to have a late-term abortion when they were unable to pay a similarly illegal 40,000 yuan “guarantee” for having a second child. The case sparked a furious reaction on- and offline, and several officials were subsequently punished or given warnings, but the couple were denounced locally as traitors. From Josh Chin at The Wall Street Journal:

The money has already been handed over by officials in the family’s home township of Zengjia, near the city of Ankang in northwest China’s province, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. “The signing of the agreement means neither party should raise any question related to the issue again,” Xinhua quoted a local official as saying.

[…] Mr. Deng, who had previously said he planned to file a criminal complaint against the local government, said on Wednesday that the family wouldn’t be pursuing criminal charges after the settlement.

Zhang Kai, the family’s attorney, said they had given up on the criminal case because they didn’t expect to get the necessary help from local law enforcement. “Although they have the right to press charges, if the prosecutors don’t fulfill their responsibilities, it’s impossible to do,” he said.

The settlement will not end the fierce discussion that has arisen around the case. Evan Osnos described the argument over China’s family planning policy at The New Yorker, with money weighing heavily both for and against the status quo.

[… Last] week, a group of Chinese government researchers called, in the name of economic sense, to ease the as soon as possible in order to mitigate the impact of a rapidly population and a decline in the nation’s number of working-age citizens. “The longer time we take to adjust the policy, the more vulnerable we become,” three researchers from a state-backed think tank wrote on Tuesday in the China Economic Times. (h/t Bloomberg.) The economic effects are no mystery: China is facing a wave of retirements and does not have enough people to replace them. The workforce is on pace to decline by 17.3 per cent. Boosting the fertility rate to 2.3 children per woman, from the current level of roughly 1.6, would cut that dropoff in half by 2050.

But will it relax the policy? Not overnight. The forces arrayed against that change are considerable. The sociologist Li Jianxin, of Peking University, has warned of the coming demographic danger to the economy, but has concluded: “Our top decision makers haven’t realized the seriousness of the problem,” Li told the Global Times this week. There is another reason to expect change to be slow: it’s a money-maker: “To some extent, the expensive fines for extra babies have become a convenient means for local authorities to reap huge profits,” Li said.

With doubtful prospects of a renewed supply of fresh workers, some have suggested that existing ones be kept on longer. But pushing back the retirement age would be hugely unpopular, as Adam Minter explained at Bloomberg.

Nevertheless, He Seping, director of the Social Security Institute at the ministry, presented a specific reform proposal at a Beijing academic seminar […]. According to the plan he laid out, starting in 2016, on alternating years, a single year would be added to the current age so that by 2045 the uniform age would be 65. Theoretically, at least, the delay would allow more money to be paid into the system to support current retirees and address the worker-retiree imbalance.

[…] On July 3, Youth Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Youth League, the traditional power base of President Hu Jintao, published a scathing critique of the reform proposal by popular essayist Shusheng Xiang. […]

It said, “Though the delayed retirement proposal was opposed by the public, some who don’t need to pay social security themselves still advocate delayed retirement.” The piece continued, “If the policy designers can’t give up their own interests, then the people may ask: ‘Why do we have to always be the ones to suffer?’”

The rising cost of raising children, meanwhile, may be all the financial incentive many parents need to avoid having more than one child. In his survey of the debate at NPR, Frank Langfitt talked to a building painter from Jiangsu who has three children—legally.

Zhang, smoking a cigarette at a picnic table outside a KFC, says his son’s formula and snacks alone were taking up a huge chunk of his average monthly wage of $126.

“I really feel like I’m being suffocated,” he continues, echoing many parents who complain about the high cost of child-rearing in China today. “Honestly, my wife and I can hardly buy any new clothes in a year. It is too hard to raise a child. I can’t afford it. I certainly would have preferred to have had only one child.”

Zheng Zhenzhen, the Chinese demographer, says people like Zhang are typical. She has surveyed more than 2,000 women of child-bearing age in Jiangsu. Most didn’t want another child.

“We found that having less children is a very widely observed norm,” says Zheng. “Even the farmers, they don’t want too many children, just one or two.”

See also Global Times’ account of the difficulties faced even by those who are legally entitled to second children and, from China Real Time Report, Stanley Lubman’s explanation of the law on forced abortion and the poor prospects for holding abusive officials to account.