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

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Crowdfunding Helps Save Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit

Smithsonian turns to Kickstarter to raise more than $700,000 to help preserve the spacesuit worn by the first man to walk on the moon More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs