New Chinese Law Could Lead to More “Sewer Babies”

Last week, a newborn baby was rescued from pipes underneath a squat toilet in Jihua, China, an occurrence that the child’s mother said was an accident. At just five pounds, it was a miracle the child survived. The mother, a 22-year-old unmarried woman, said she had tried to contact the father and he had refused to acknowledge paternity. Unable to afford an abortion, she kept the pregnancy a secret, unexpectedly giving birth while using the toilet. She raised the alarm shortly after the incident, and the baby was miraculously rescued after the pipes were painstakingly cut from him.

In China, there is already a one-child policy and those who hope to become parents must obtain a pregnancy permit. The penalties for violating these laws are severe, causing many thousands of abortions, or in the case of those who cannot afford them, infanticide.

But now things may get even worse newborns in Wuhan city, located in central Hubei, China. The city has drafted a new “family planning policy” that would fine mothers who have a child out of wedlock, a policy that the government claims will help prevent single women from having affairs with married men.

“If the policy is approved, there could be more ‘sewer babies,’ because when mothers can’t afford the cost, they might think about throwing their babies away,” said Chen Yaya of the Shanghai Academy of Social Science.

Chen, who is a gender equality researcher, says the policy seems to be completely targeted at women and that there are already Chinese laws that discriminate against unmarried mothers—such as ones that bar them from government maternity benefits.

Yuan Xin, who is a professor of population studies at Renmin University, says this is the first policy that has targeted childbearing out of wedlock as a separate offense. “We need to distinguish between the legal and moral aspects,” said Yuan, citing the need for a new definition of the word family. “Let’s say I am single, and I want to have a child. Is that wrong? No, it’s not, so is it considered a family? Having a baby with a married man, is that considered a family? All these details need to be specified.”

The citizens of Wuhan have one week to comment on the newly drafted law.

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