News / Asia

Single Chinese Mothers Struggle to Overcome Social Hurdles

A mother carries her baby wrapped in a blanket in Beijing, (File photo).
A mother carries her baby wrapped in a blanket in Beijing, (File photo).
VOA News
When Yi Ran learned she was pregnant three years ago she was overwhelmed with fear. The 30-year-old store assistant was not married, her boyfriend was just an occasional relation and she felt at her age this could be the last chance to have a child.
 
But as she mustered courage and decided to carry on with her pregnancy, the woman fell into an invisible growing world of unwed mothers struggling to survive in tradition-dominated China. Every year the number of women giving birth out of wedlock grows by 10-13 percent, and their age becomes increasingly young, according to surveys carried by local press.
 
Like many others, Yi Ran did not tell anybody in her entourage about the pregnancy. She chose instead to quit her job, open an online store and work from home, where she can look after her son at the same time.
 
She said that her heart is heavy with anxiety as she strives to make ends meet while a fine imposed on illegal births still looms large over her days.
 
“I fear I will not be able to pay” she said.
 
Yi Ran’s son also does not exist on China’s population records, because he has no household registration - hukou in Chinese -  available only to children born within the frame of legal marriage.
 
The plight of single mothers
 
The question of young women giving birth out of wedlock rose to attention a month ago when firemen rescued an abandoned baby from a sewage pipe. The case made headlines in China and shocked the whole nation.
 
An abandoned newborn baby cries in an incubator after he was rescued from a sewage pipe at a hospital in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China, May 28, 2013.An abandoned newborn baby cries in an incubator after he was rescued from a sewage pipe at a hospital in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China, May 28, 2013.
x
An abandoned newborn baby cries in an incubator after he was rescued from a sewage pipe at a hospital in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China, May 28, 2013.
An abandoned newborn baby cries in an incubator after he was rescued from a sewage pipe at a hospital in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China, May 28, 2013.
A 22-year-old waitress in southeast China gave birth in a public toilet, then flushed the newborn’s body away in an attempt to avoid condemnation and punishment for bearing a child without being married. Only after the baby was rescued days later did she come out to explain that fear and dismay at her future as a single mother led to her actions. Police, however, returned the child to his mother.
 
Rising incomes, liberal sexual behavior and growing mobility are all impacting women’s choices on family and relations.
 
A survey conducted by the Guangdong Province Research Center on Family Planning revealed that 50 to 80 percent of female migrant workers in the province have premarital sex; among them 50 to 60 percent have had in accidental pregnancy.
 
When they decide to keep their baby, single women are aware they are breaking the law. Chinese family planning agencies punish any contravention of the one-child policy, including birth out of wedlock.
 
Wei Wei, a social worker with Little Bird - an NGO that provides help for migrant workers - says Chinese society does not support aid to unwed mothers, as other causes come first in the helping line.
 
“Their status is illegal, they do not have any legal protection. And this is a thorny social group, there’s no organization that looks after them,” says Mr. Wei.
 
Invisible children
 
Wei Wei said the phenomenon is widespread, especially in manufacturing clusters like Guangzhou and Shenzhen where migrant workers flock together.
 
“The biggest problem they face once their partner abandons them is the issue of hukou, they are not able to get a household registration for the child” he said. “They also find themselves in very hard economic condition, because the original family excludes them, they do not have any income and it’s hard for them to find a job.”
 
Yi Ran’s son is now three years old.
 
Without the household registration he will not be allowed into kindergarten and each time he falls ill, medical fees are higher than average. But as she does not posses any marriage certificate, the young woman is not able to apply for registration.
 
“Getting a household registration for my son is my biggest concern, that’s where I would really need help” she said.
 
Little Bird’s Wei Wei said the law does not consider this situation.

“According to Chinese regulation if they do not marry before giving birth, registering the kid is a huge problem.”
 
Solutions are scarce, Wei said, and one includes marriage.

“They can marry somebody and then apply for a hukou for the kid, in this way the problem can be solved.”  
 
Fines for unwed mothers
 
On the other hand, no solution is available to avoid the social compensation fees imposed by local government on unwed mothers for breaking the one-child policy.
 
Last month Wuhan city government sparked controversy when it announced a new regulation targeting women giving birth out of wedlock. Article 26 of the regulation on population management, currently under revision, states that ‘unwed people giving birth or unable to provide certificate of the partner’ must pay a social compensation fee in accordance with local law.
 
Li Yun, a women’s rights lawyer based in Guangzhou, said that Wuhan’s policies put an unfair financial load on these women.

“The fine set is double the amount of the fine for couple who have more than one child” she said. “This is probably because the number of children born out of wedlock is increasingly high, but it’s unfair and many are against the rule.”
 
The burden of fines often weighs only on single mothers, as partners abandon them.
 
The amount varies and in certain areas can be the equivalent of one year’s income. People like Yi Ran, who do not enjoy family support and fall outside social welfare programs aimed only at married couples, find it very difficult to pay social compensation fees.
 
But public opinion is reacting to Wuhan’s new law. Earlier this month local students took to the street protesting the measure.
 
Social network
 
On the fringes of society, where no help is available to them, unwed mothers rely heavily on each other.
 
Many go on the Internet to find help and moral relief.

More than 3,000 users are active in an online chat dedicated to unwed mothers on Internet portal Baidu, said the forum’s moderator Yiyi.
 
Yi Ran explains that the Internet is the only place where she can express her feelings and frustrations as a single mother. Never has she sought help from strangers or social welfare.
 
“There are things I cannot say in real life, but the Internet is my little space of freedom” she said.
 
Yang, an officer at the All China Women’s Federation in Beijing’s Dongcheng District, acknowledges that unwed mothers rarely seek help at government-sponsored agencies like theirs.
 
“We basically do not have a service for unmarried mothers because there is not this need in society and nobody asks us for this kind of help.”
 
But as long as social perception of unmarried mothers does not change, it will be difficult for these women to come out.
 
Lawyer Li Yun said women who give birth out of wedlock live under high pressure. “People basically believe it’s a personal mistake, it’s their personal responsibility to be a single mother” she said. “They receive moral condemnation by society.”

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid