More Chinese cities offer maternity insurance to unmarried mothers amid demographic crisis
Published: Mar 16, 2021 11:29 PM
Parents holding their children play in the square of a residential community in Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province. Photo: VCG

Parents holding their children play in the square of a residential community. Photo: VCG

Amid growing demographic risk, more Chinese cities are providing maternity insurance for unmarried mothers, a group once excluded from this welfare for "violating the family planning policy," the Global Times learned.

Zhang Meng, a 45-year-old unmarried mother in Shanghai, eventually got her maternity insurance earlier this month after more than three years of legal battles. "I was so delighted and grateful," Zhang told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Including Zhang, there have been at least eight unmarried mothers in Shanghai this year who have successfully applied for maternity insurance, which usually varies from 30,000 to 120,000 yuan ($4,617-18,468) in the city, according to several single mothers or mothers-to-be reached by the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Shanghai updated its maternity insurance policies in January, for the first time removing "family planning related certificates" - such as marriage or divorce certificates - from the necessary application materials. 

That made Shanghai the second region in China to include unmarried mothers in its maternity insurance system, following a few cities in South China's Guangdong Province, Zhang noted.

Zhang has been appealing to courts at all levels since 2017, when her maternity insurance application was turned down. During this time, she had successively sued Shanghai's social insurance authority and the government of Pudong New Area where she lives, but both her cases were unsuccessful.

The defeats didn't surprise Zhang, as she thought it would be very difficult to change the judicial system or "correct" an administrative act. "But I never gave up; I believe I am entitled to the money," Zhang said.

China's Civil Code says that children born out of wedlock enjoy the same rights as children born in wedlock, but in practice it is not easy for this to be fulfilled, said Zhang's attorney Fang Jie, a Shanghai-based lawyer mainly engaged in marriage and family matter cases.

It is hard for single mothers to enjoy the same rights as their married peers, because they are seen as violators of the current family planning laws, Fang told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Unmarried mothers are ineligible for maternity insurance in the overwhelming majority of Chinese regions, including some first-tier metropolises like Beijing, according to a survey conducted by Diverse Family Network, a non-profit group based in Guangdong.

But Fang believes that the policies will become more open and friendly for this group in the near future, partly because China put forth the concept of "inclusiveness" in the family planning policy in its most recent Five-Year Plan.

China is actively responding to the demographic strain and low fertility rate, which has declined below a warning line. 

She Wenqing, a 36-year-old single woman in Shanghai, said that she expects Chinese authorities to abolish the family planning policy and take more supportive measures to encourage childbirth. 

She recalled that she was close to tears when hearing Zhang and some other unmarried mothers had successfully got their maternity insurance days earlier. "I admire Zhang; she broke a hard rock," She told the Global Times on Tuesday. She plans to have a baby with her boyfriend this year, she added.