Sichuan Province Lifts Ban on Unmarried Parents, Encourages Childbearing
The move is part of a larger government initiative aimed at addressing the effects of an aging population and will be in place for five years
The Sichuan province in China, home to over 80 million people, has ended its ban on unmarried individuals having children, as part of the country’s national drive to increase the birth rate. The Sichuan health commission recently announced that it will now allow all people to register births with the provincial government, effective February 15, 2023. This change will also remove restrictions on the number of birth registrations for any parent.
Previously, only married couples who wanted to have two children or fewer could register their birth with local authorities. Sichuan authorities have explained that these new measures are intended to “shift the focus of childbearing registration to childbearing desire and childbearing results”. The measures will be in effect for the next five years.
Photo by Josha Chun
While national reproduction policies do not explicitly ban unmarried women from having children, proof of marriage is often required to access free services such as prenatal healthcare, a mother’s salary during maternity leave, and job protection. People who seek to register a birth outside of marriage can face heavy fines in order to obtain a hukou, which is a household registration that gives the child access to education and social services in China.
China’s government has been implementing measures to increase the country’s birth rate after its population fell for the first time in 60 years in 2022. The government is concerned about the impact of an ageing population on the economy, as the proportion of work-age people continues to shrink in comparison to those who are supported by state welfare.
Sichuan ranks seventh in terms of proportion of its population older than 60 years old, which is over 21% of the population, according to government figures. The province has tried multiple incentives to increase births, including monthly allowances for parents who have a second or third child until the children are three years old, which were introduced in July 2021.
Young people are increasingly rejecting marriage and childbirth in China due to the high cost of living, reduced social mobility, increased career pressures, and social expectations on women. China’s previous one-child policy, which was implemented for decades and included financial penalties and forced abortions, ended only in 2016, resulting in a major gender imbalance due to a preference for male children.
Yi Fuxian, an obstetrics and gynaecology researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an expert on China’s population changes, has explained that the new measures will now allow people to have children regardless of their marital status. He has stated that the previous birth limits were in place to ensure that there was only one child (or two or three children) born to one man and one woman, but the new measures will remove this requirement.
Reactions to the Sichuan amendment have been mixed, with tens of millions of people discussing the change online. Some people have expressed concern about the impact on house prices, extramarital affairs, and illegal surrogacy. Other people have criticized the policy for being desperate to increase birth rates, while others have supported the policy as a step towards respecting reproductive freedom.
The end of the ban on unmarried individuals having children in Sichuan province is part of China’s national drive to increase its birth rate after the country’s population fell for the first time in 60 years in 2022. The change will remove restrictions on the number of birth registrations for any parent and will allow people to have children regardless of their marital status. The impact of these measures remains to be seen, but it is a step towards respecting reproductive freedom in China.