Relaxation of China's one-child policy: Change stirs up painful memories for many

Relaxation of China's one-child policy: Change stirs up painful memories for many

Xiangcheng (Henan) - It may have happened 24 years ago, but the villager in central Henan province remembers clearly the date she aborted her five-month-old male foetus. "Ba yue chu er," said the 57-year-old woman who wanted to be known only as Madam Zhang, referring to the second day of the eighth lunar month in 1989.

The night before that day, more than 80 people, led by the village leaders, had descended upon her house in a village that is about a 20-minute drive from Xiangcheng city, demanding that she undergo an abortion, recounted Madam Zhang.

Someone had tipped off the authorities about her pregnancy, which violated the one-child policy. She and her husband already have a girl, born in 1983, and a boy who was born three years later, and wanted another son.

"Those people were dismantling our rooftop and grabbing our farming equipment and blankets to force us to agree to an abortion," she told The Sunday Times, standing outside the same house where the incident took place.

"Of course I still remember the date. How does one forget such an experience?" said Madam Zhang, who takes comfort now that her two children have given her five grandchildren.

China's decision to relax its one-child policy may have brought cheer to many young couples. But for older couples, especially those in the countryside like Madam Zhang, news of the impending change has evoked only painful memories.

Since the policy was implemented in 1979, millions have paid hefty fines - known as "social support fees"- for violating the one-child policy or undergone forced abortions and sterilisation at the hands of local officials keen to fulfil the central government's birth targets. The fine can be several times a person's annual income.

Official statistics show that at least 335 million government- approved abortions and 200 million sterilisations have taken place.

And such practices are reportedly continuing to this day, even in the countryside where the policy has been relaxed for rural folk if their first child is a girl. Earlier this month, farmer Ai Guangdong, 45, who had five children, killed himself by drinking pesticide at a Communist Party chief's house after officials in northern Hebei province seized his family's annual food supply for violating the policy.

In August this year, Mr Guo Xingcong, 59, of south-western Yunnan province, also died by taking pesticide after officials allegedly forced him to undergo sterilisation, according to media reports.

His son, Zhengcai, accused the local family planning authorities of having harassed his parents since 2006 to be sterilised, even though both said they were too old to have more children.

"My family has never exceeded the birth quota. There are two children in our family. I am the younger one, and will soon be 26," he said. It's clear that this is about getting money, because they charge a fine in lieu of sterilisation."

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