Xinhua Insight: Female job-seekers struggle with relaxed birth policy

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Lin Qiao has searched for a job in vain for half a year in east China's Zhejiang Province. Now that the province has relaxed the decades-old one-child policy, she fears her job prospects have become even bleaker.

"An interviewer asked me if I was going to have two children and I did not know how to answer," said Lin, an only child who is allowed to have a second baby under the new birth policy, which went into effect on Jan. 17 in Zhejiang.

Lin is currently a graduate student in the provincial capital of Hangzhou and will graduate this July. Like many other universities in China, hers allows students to use their last semester to look for jobs and internships in order to gain employment immediately after graduation.

According to the country's Ministry of Education, a total of 7.27 million university students will enter the job market this year, 280,000 more than in 2013, a year once labeled the most difficult employment season on record.

After the implementation of the new policy, a Hangzhou-based advertising company cut its recruitment plan to hire 2-3 female copywriters to just one.

"It's a small company and we hire many young graduates. If some of them choose to have more than one child, the risk will be too high to handle," said the human resources manager who did not want to be named.

This year's employment situation is even more difficult, especially for female graduates who face more competing job-seekers as well as potentially worse gender discrimination from employers as a result of the relaxed birth control policy.

Following the lead of Zhejiang, the neighboring provinces of Anhui and Jiangxi have also allowed couples to have a second baby if either parent is an only child. The move is a significant change of policy, made in part to raise China's fertility rates and to ease the burden on the rapidly graying society.

Provincial-level governments in Beijing, Guangxi, Hubei and Jiangsu have announced their intentions to relax the policy in March. Others, including Hunan, Qinghai and Shanghai, promised changes in the first half of this year.

China's labor law stipulates that a woman is entitled to a maternity leave of no less than ninety days with full pay, which is a hidden reason for gender discrimination. The idea of an employee asking for maternity leave twice may intimidate some employers.

"Though so far I have not considered how the new birth policy will influence my employment standards, what I can be sure of is that I don't want my employees to spend too many days in the hospital having babies," said a private company owner who requested anonymity.

According to a 2011 report released by the All-China Women's Federation, 56.7 percent of female university students interviewed said there were "fewer job opportunities for girls," and a remarkable 91.9 percent said they had suffered gender discrimination from employers.

"Law enforcement authorities should step up, supervise and guide companies in their recruitment activities, or the employment situation for women will become worse," said Huang Yizhi, a Beijing-based lawyer who has been following gender discrimination for years.

"Having children is also making contribution to our society, but they treat us like enemies, which is so unfair," Lin said.

Last year, 20 female university students exposed 267 companies that posted recruitment advertisements with "male only" requirements on, an influential online employment information platform. One of the women, Cao Ju, sued one of the companies individually and won the case.

Cao was compensated 30,000 yuan (4,959 U.S. dollars) in what has been called "China's first employment gender discrimination case."

"It was way too difficult and, at the time, I felt I could quit at any minute," Cao said. "Sadly, the general picture has not changed, as it is still impossible for women to safeguard their legal rights most of the time."

Meanwhile, many Chinese women have expressed limited interest in having a second child, both for career reasons and because the costs of housing and education have surged in recent years.

One of the main reasons the Chinese government has relaxed the birth control policy is to cope with a lack of labor force and a serious aging problem in the future. But if women are unwilling to have more children due to employment pressure, the government will not be able to fulfill its goal, according to some experts.

Lyu Pin, a scholar committed to fighting discrimination against women, said that having children is not just a matter of one family, and the government should roll out supporting measures to ease the burden on mothers.

"For example, provide subsidies to mothers who have a second child, offer tax breaks to companies that hire more female employees, and so on," Lyu said. Endi

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