Parents sacked for breaking one-child policy want their jobs back

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/20 18:38:39

Following the liberalization of the country's family planning policy, hundreds of parents who were sacked for having a second child have started to ask for their old jobs back. Nevertheless, experts say their chances are slim because this would constitute an official rejection of the one-child policy.

A Chinese family with two children. Photo: CFP

Since China ratified the two-child policy at the start of this year, hundreds of parents across the country who were sacked for having a second child have started to organize and ask for their jobs back.

Last month, about 20 of them from regions including the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Shandong and Guangdong provinces, came to petition the central government in Beijing. The parents lost their jobs as long ago as 1987.

Guo Chunping, once a local government finance bureau worker in Xiushui county, East China's Jiangxi Province, was fired in 2013 for having an extra child after 15 years working at the bureau.

China started to enforce the family planning policy in the early 1980s, restricting most couples to only one child. Depending on regional regulations, violators were handed hefty fines and even fired from their public sector jobs.

Guo said that they organized the petition through a QQ instant messaging group which has more than 200 members with similar experiences. "We are representatives of different regions. It's the first time we've made such a petition in Beijing," he told the Global Times.

In December 2013, the country took its first steps toward relaxing the policy, allowing couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child. On January 1 this year, the policy was further loosened to allow all couples to have two children. Guo and others hope that their chance for rehabilitation has come.

"Last year, President Xi Jinping granted official pardons to some prisoners. The errors in the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) were forgiven, so why we can't be rehabilitated? Is having a second child more serious than a real crime?" he questioned.

Officials from the National Health and Family Planning Commission agreed to meet the petitioners but their reply was not surprising. "They argued that the national law doesn't have provisions about firing violators, and advised us to turn to local administrations," Guo said.

The Population and Family Planning Law that took effect in 2002 only says that family planning policy violators who work in public organs or institutions and State-owned or controlled enterprises should be given some kind of administrative sanction.

But the regional regulations passed by local legislatures differ. According to the Global Times' studies of the latest versions of the 31 provincial-level regions, 12 just mention "administrative" or "disciplinary" sanctions, including Beijing and Shanghai. But 14 of them, including Hunan, Jiangxi and Guangdong provinces, stipulate that violators may face losing their job over unplanned births.

The other five regions mention neither sanctions or sackings, only fines. They are Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Gansu provinces, Chongqing Municipality and the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Huang Wenzheng, co-founder of cnpop.org, a non-profit website on the Chinese population, estimates that several hundred thousand people lost their jobs for having extra children.

"More than 100 million children were born outside the state's plan, and most of them were in countryside. Even if only one parent in every thousand lost their job as a punishment, there would be 100,000 people sacked," Huang told the Global Times. 

Chen Jianxian, a 41-year-old mother in Suixi county in Guangdong Province, also joined Guo's cause but didn't petition in Beijing.

In April last year, she found out she was two months pregnant. "It was unexpected," she explained. "But the doctor advised me against getting an abortion considering my age and poor physical condition," she told the Global Times.

Chen, who had then been a chemistry teacher at a middle school for 18 years, and her husband, also a teacher, already had a 13 year-old daughter. To dodge the seasonal pregnancy checks conducted on married women, a common method used by local health authorities to prevent births, and avoid incriminating her husband, she divorced him the same month.

The headmaster offered her two choices: abort the child or resign. On October 9, she handed in her resignation letter. On November 6, her second child was born.

Now, living on only the income of her ex-husband, a mere 3,000 yuan ($450) a month, the family of five, including Chen's father who has suffered a stroke, are struggling to survive.

"It's hard for women of my age to find a job again," Chen lamented. What made her feel particularly bitter about what happened to her family is that her baby was born just 54 days before the country officially ratified the two-child policy.

Guo Chunping (front right) and other parents who were sacked for having a second child petition at the National Health and Family Planning Commission in Beijing on August 9. Photo: Courtesy of Guo Chunping

Culprit behind

The forced abortions and dismissals both resulted from the fact that family planning policy enforcement was linked to local officials' performance ratings, Huang said. In 1982, Changde in Hunan Province took the lead on enforcing the family planning policy, passing regulations which said that poor performance in birth control could disqualify an official from getting a promotion. Later, this was adopted nationwide and remains a national policy to this day.

"The policy is lethal and has been effective until today. Many of us have been saying it should be revoked. We believe it will expire in the near future," Huang noted.

Huang cited an example: in a school, the headmaster's career will not be affected if a teacher commits a crime, but might be ruined if a teacher has more children than they were allowed.

Officials at various levels have tried all means to make sure people don't have extra children. In urban areas, couples can lose their jobs; In rural areas, families who won't - or can't - pay fines have had their property confiscated and sold by family planning officials, including their livestock, furniture and appliances.

Ma Li, counselor of the State Council and former director of the China Population and Development Research Center, still defends these policies.

"The regional responses were made to support the national policy. At that time, we had no other choice but to enforce birth control to develop their economy and make families get rich in a short period," Ma told the Global Times.

While Ma acknowledges the damage done to individuals, she claims that they should have expected this as "lawbreakers" and that society as a whole benefitted.

Guo said he decided to have a second child in 2011 after reading news stories about couples who lost their only child in news. "I feared repeating their stories. In addition, several others I know kept their jobs after having a second child. So my wife and I decided to take the risk," Guo said.

In February 2012 when his wife was nine months pregnant, someone reported the couple to the local family planning bureau. According to Guo, tip-offs were rewarded with anything from a few hundred yuan to more than 10,000 yuan.

Later, he was asked to pay social maintenance fees of 120,000 yuan and he lost his job. To earn money, he went to Guangzhou to become an accountant at a private logistics company.

But he spends most of his spare time studying population policies, laws, and attempting to seek compensation. "I feel aggrieved about the fact that many other violators were not sacked due to connections or bribing family planning officials," Guo complained, claiming that the party chief of the Xiushui also has two children.

Yuan Dafu from Jinzhai county, Anhui Province, has been petitioning the authorities since he was sacked by the local education bureau in 2003 for "having an unplanned child" and "exploiting policy loopholes."

In 1992, he paid 6,000 yuan to change his wife's rural hukou, or household registration to an urban one. In 2002 his wife's hukou was transferred back to a rural one, which was described by the local authorities as "exploiting policy loopholes" as rural families were allowed to have a second child if the first one was a girl.

"The accusation is an insult to me. The urban hukou the government sold [in 1992] were illegal anyway. What's more at least seven other violators in teaching posts were not sacked," Yuan told the Global Times, explaining his persistence in petitioning.



Mission impossible

Yi Fuxian, author of non-fiction work A Big Country in an Empty Nest which argues that the birth control policy has hurt China, believes that the government should offer people their old jobs back.

"Because of the extra babies, the country's aging problem was relieved to some extent. If the conditions allow, the government should arrange jobs for them, or at least give them a fair opportunity to get reemployed and revoke recruiting limitations related to their old offenses," Yi told the Global Times.

Yi, originally from Hunan, migrated to the US in 1999 and became senior researcher of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A father of three, he said two of his children would not have been allowed if he had stayed in China.

Ma Li said employers such as schools and hospitals that are facing a labor shortage shall consider recalling these sacked workers.

Wu Youshui from Zhejiang Bijian Law Firm, who has represented clients in several lawsuits about the family planning policy, believes it necessary to recover their jobs. "If you consider today's population situation, their behavior didn't bring a negative impact to society," Wu told the Global Times.

Huang agreed, saying that they can be judged as innocent by the new rules if their "violations" have contributed to the society and the country.

Some couples have won compensation through legal means. In March last year, at a press conference in Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court, judges said employers had no right to sack employees for having a second child, citing two rulings in Beijing. The reasons the judges gave was that neither Beijing municipal regulations nor their labor contracts stipulated this punishment.

According to the Labor Contract Law, it's illegal to fire employees just because they had more children than they were allowed, Wu said. "But the law doesn't apply to workers in public organs and institutions, thus they have little room to seek judicial relief unless the penalty was not included in the local family planning regulations," he explained.

In October last year, the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee released revised disciplinary rules for CPC members, which saw the phrase "family planning" removed. In the old version, the CPC members could face losing their Party posts and membership for violating the family planning policy.

In their revised family planning regulations approved this year, Henan and Chongqing removed clauses which said people could lose their job for having extra kids.

However, both Wu and Huang agree that it's nearly impossible for the government to publicly agree to returning people's jobs to them. "Returning jobs to them would mean a denial of the family planning policy," Wu said.

Chen Jianxian hasn't given up. She plans to find a legal way to demand compensation when her son turns 1 year old and she has more free time. "At least, I know now it was illegal to fire me during my pregnancy," she said.

Ren Yaoti contributed to this story


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