'Illegal' Children Face Tough Lives as China Relaxes One-Child PolicyS

As China's Zhejiang Province implements a One-Child Policy exception to allow a couple where one person is an only child to have two offspring, the BBC has published an article on a little-discussed effect of this policy: second children, born in violation of this measure, basically have no identity.

According to the BBC report, local authorities often withhold identification papers for an illegally-born second child, making it difficult for them to attend public school, access basic healthcare and other services, and obtain employment in adulthood. One couple profiled had to pay a $10,000 fine for having a second child, and then had to further bribe a kindergarten to take their son, while his classmates attend for free. According to the BBC's accompanying video report, the boy's mother refused to have an abortion after her government-issued birth control failed. The local authorities have also ordered her to get sterilized.

The situation is so dire that parents have resorted to suing the local government for their children's papers. Take, for example, Liu Fei's story:

On the northern outskirts of Beijing, Liu Fei is also fighting local officials in her area to relinquish her son's identity papers. Her eight-year-old does not even have a birth certificate, although for now, Ms Liu has found a school that will allow him to attend classes.

Liu Fei received an unusually harsh punishment after having her second child in her second marriage. Because her second husband also had one child, the government is treating Ms Liu as if she has had three children of her own. She faces a $54,000 fine that is 14 times her annual salary as a warehouse worker.

"I'll never be able to pay it off in this lifetime," Liu Fei told the BBC, before bursting into tears.

So this widow is suing the local authorities - something that is almost unheard of in China.

Exorbitant fines, denying a child their basic rights from birth, and making it even more difficult based on someone's second marriage - there seems to be no end in sight to the coercion and hardship that Chinese families face because they dare to have more than one child. This also seems like a consequence that poor or otherwise ordinary Chinese families feel the most. The government just fined director Zhang Yimou $1 million for fathering several illegal children, but would they dare to withhold his offspring's identification cards?

Zhejiang Province's new law is at least a step in the right direction. After a legacy gender imbalance and labor shortages via forced sterilizations, gender-selective abortions, this exception could go a long way in alleviating the One-Child Policy's brutal consequences.

Meanwhile, a Beijing court is supposed to rule on Liu Fei's case next week, which could set a precedent for countless families in her situation. Here's hoping that the ruling goes their way, and that Chinese citizens stop facing such dire consequences for family planning decisions that should be in their own hands.