China's family size violation fees to stay

China's family size violation fees to stay

China's top family planning authority will continue charging social maintenance fees for family planning policy violations, although some experts say the 12-year-old fee is outdated and should be abolished.

The message was delivered at a symposium on Tuesday organised by the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

The response addressed repeated public calls to abolish the fees, which have been blamed for fueling corruption.

"As long as China has the family planning policy, the social maintenance fees will be in place, as they serve to bolster policy implementation," said Song Jian, deputy director of the School of Sociology and Population Studies at Renmin University of China.

China's top decision-makers announced at the end of 2013 the latest loosening of the family planning policy, allowing couples with only one spouse who is an only child to have a second child, but they stressed the country will keep the family planning policy, citing the long-term burden from the nation's population size on socioeconomic development.

In other words, "Couples still cannot decide the family size fully on their own," Yuan Xin, a professor of demographics at Nankai University's Institute of Population and Development.

In that context, "the fees that punish violations won't be abolished," he said.

The commission's spokeswoman, Song Shuli, said no timetable has been established for an overall two-child policy as "that requires further investigation and assessment, given the huge effect from any change to population policies."

Song said fine-tuning the birth rules takes a long time because of the fluid demographic and national situations, and urged patience and tolerance.

Also, the tradition of preferring a boy still exists in some regions of China and the fines could deter violations, Song Jian added.

The social maintenance fee was introduced in 2002 under a regulation issued by the top family planning authority.

That amounts to more than 20 billion yuan ($3.25 billion) annually, expert estimates showed.

The regulation stipulates the fees collected nationwide go into State coffers first and also are used to finance public services and social courses of all kinds at local levels.

Commission spokesman Yao Hongwen said the fees had never been earmarked for the use of family planning work, and thus were never given to family planning administrations.

However, in practice, irregularities did exist, such as a lack of transparency and regional gap in fee standards, he acknowledged.

Because of that, the commission revised the regulation on social maintenance fees, and the draft was sent in late November to the State Council for final approval and promulgation.

The draft states that the annual amount of social maintenance fees should be made public.

In addition, the draft sets a ceiling on fines and social maintenance for couples violating the rules, suggesting penalties should be less than three times the local average annual disposable personal income, to unify standards in different provinces.

Previously, a high-profile case that attracted public attention and triggered a heated debate involved renowned Chinese film director Zhang Yimou.

Zhang was ordered to pay 7.48 million yuan after acknowledging that he and his wife, Chen Ting, had three children before their marriage. He later apologised.

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