BEIJING â€" President Xi Jinping is now be turning his attention to China's so-called "black households," those without an official family registry document, who are thus barred from obtaining legal proof of identity.
But China will need more than Xi's good will to solve the problem, which ultimately can be traced in large part back to the country's one-child policy. People in black households face enormous difficulties enrolling in schools, accessing medical care, registering for marriage, finding legal employment and traveling.
A survey conducted in 2010 suggests that least 13 million people in China â€" roughly 1% of the population â€" lack these basic documents. The National Development and Reform Commission found that approximately 60% of these black households involve people born outside of the one-child policy. They are not registered officially because their families couldn't afford the heavy financial and social penalties of having more than one child. The other 40% involve children whose parents were not joined in wedlock, who lost their migration card, or whose birth was simply not reported to the authorities.
Local authorities, in order to reach their birth-control goal, have long levied what is known as a "social compensation fee" in exchange of household registration of any child born outside of family planning regulations. For migrant families, furthermore, adherence to the one-child policy is a requirement for obtaining a permanent residence permit in many big cities, including the capital, Beijing.
This month, in an effort to address the issue, President Xi Jinping announced plans to decouple the family planning policy from the household registration system. On paper, at least, this is a huge step foward given the major social problems and even tragedies that resulted over the years from the linking of these two systems.
Two years ago, for example, a 16-year-old girl from Sichuan province killed herself because she was not registered in her household and was barred from participating in the high school entrance examination. That same year, the Xinmin Weekly quoted an eight-year-old boy saying, "The family planning bureau and public security staff are so evil that I want to join the mafia when I grow up to get revenge on these people." The boy was unregistered because his parents couldnâ€™t afford the colossal social compensation fee of 330,000 RMB (nearly $51,000).
Rights vs. regulations
For years, the existence of so many black households has violated the basic principles of modern society, denied these individuals their civil rights, and seriously damaged the Chinese governmentâ€™s image.
President Xi's unprecedented announcement is thus a major step forward since every child, whether they come from a "planned" or "unplanned" birth, and regardless of whether the conduct of their parents meets certain regulations, is an independent person and should enjoy the basic right of citizenship.
Flags in Tiananmen Square, Beijing â€" Photo: D'N'C
The Nationality Law, furthermore, states that a person with one or both parents of Chinese nationality, and who is born in China, is entitled to Chinese nationality. Thus, to be registered in the family registry is a necessary means of legally confirming one's citizenship and a constitutional right not to be deprived of.
And yet in order for its plans to be effective, the State must simultaneously bring an end to the collection of the social compensation fee. So far it has failed to do so. The result is that many people fear the family planning bureau can still come and force them to pay a penalty once they register their children, which is exactly what happend recently to some families in Jiangxi province. Some are even convinced the new policy is just the authorityâ€™s way of deceiving them in order to collect the fine.
From a legal standpoint, the social compensation fee is deeply flawed. Children are a nationâ€™s future. Providing children with necessary public resources is the basic duty of a modern government. Though more children means more demands on public resources, it also means that this "additional" population will in turn create more public resources as adults. In the end, a personâ€™s social contribution is generally greater than the burden he brings.
On top of that, children from black households â€" because they lack documents â€" are deprived of the legitimate use of most public resources. Thus imposing a further fine on their parents is illogical.
The proportion of children in Chinaâ€™s population is at a historic low. In the past decade, in both the countryside and in the cities, a number of primary schools have shut due to insufficient enrollment. In Beijing, for example, the number of primary schools dropped from 2,867 in 1995 to 1,081 in 2012.
With todayâ€™s low birth rate, families raising more children are actually making a greater contribution to the sustainable development of China. Yet we are forcibly penalizing them with a social compensation fee that these families should be using to support their children.
Most of the black-listed people come from the bottom of society, and are thus the least able to afford the collosal social compensation fines. Forcing them to do so pushes them to the brink, sometimes with fatal consequences.
The story of Ai Guandong is a case in point. Starting in 2003, the impoverished farmer's family was hassled with a 7,000-RMB ($1,080) fine. Since Ai Guandong couldnâ€™t afford it in one go, officials came to collect money in installments. "Sometimes 200 RMB, other times 300, without any receipt. And then when we had the third child, they imposed a fine of 60,000 RMB ($9,260), which is beyond our means," Aiâ€™s wife recalled. Two years ago, when official goons came and forcibly took away 7,000 kilograms of corn â€" the crop making up the total annual revenue source of the family â€" Ai committed suicide in despair.
Such extreme examples should push China's leaders to take the demographic reform to its logical conclusion: eliminating the social maintenance fee and give families the true freedom to contribute to the country's future.
Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.
• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.
• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.
• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.
• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.
• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?
As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.
🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.
⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.
🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."
— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.
Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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