Unmarried mothers in Central China's Hubei Province can apply for birth certificates for their babies starting next year, a gesture experts read as a step to acknowledge the legal status of children born out of wedlock.
The new regulation was jointly issued by the provincial health and family planning commission and public security department in Hubei.
According to the regulation, all babies born in the province can get legal birth certificates and any institutions issuing and managing birth certificates can't attach additional conditions such as marriage certificates of the parents or birth approval certificates when issuing birth certificates.
The birth certificate is medical proof of the baby's birth status and parental relationship. It is needed to obtain Chinese citizenship as well as the household registration permit, or hukou. The lack of a hukou creates problems for the child's education and medical treatment.
"The requirements for obtaining a birth certificate differ from region to region, but usually it includes a birth approval certificate from the local family planning bureau. Some places even require a marriage license," Liang Zhongtang, a former expert with the National Population and Family Planning Commission and research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
A birth approval certificate is given by the birthing couple's employers or the neighborhood committee and approved by the local government upon the couple's application.
With the new policy, when unmarried mothers apply for birth certificates for their child, they need to provide a written statement, according to a report on news portal cnhubei.com.
"I think the new regulation is a sign that society is progressing," the Xinhua News Agency quotes an unmarried mother surnamed Cheng as saying. "Unmarried mothers should have the right to choose whether they want to raise their children on their own. 'Birthing out of wedlock' should be a problem tackled by the marriage law."
Liang said the new policy is an improvement. "It doesn't matter whether you are married or unmarried, as long as there's a birth, the child will be a legal one, that's following the natural order," he said.
"The policy is humane as it shows respect to people's rights of birth and children's rights of survival," Yuan Xin, a professor with the Institute of Population and Development at Nankai University, told the Global Times on Monday.
But a birth certificate does not mean that unmarried parents will be exempted from other punishment if their giving birth violates China's family planning policy, Yuan said.
Some people question the legitimacy of this policy, saying it might encourage giving birth before marriage and extramarital affairs, which go against the traditional values of society.
Historically there has been discrimination toward unmarried parents in China.
In June, a family planning regulation was drafted in Wuhan, capital city of Hubei, which requires unmarried mothers without "appropriate certificates" from the children's fathers and those who knowingly have children out of wedlock to pay a "social compensation fee."
Liang said he thinks the easing of the policy came because of the phenomenon of people having children out of wedlock, not the other way around.
Yuan said he doesn't think the policy will encourage unmarried birth or pregnancy before marriage. "Both unmarried birth and pregnancy before marriage are not encouraged by Chinese traditional ethics and current laws," Yuan said.