The Population and Family Planning Law took effect on September 1. To help people gain a better understanding of the law, China.org.cn arranged a special interview with Zhao Bingli, vice minister of the State Family Planning Commission. Zhao explained in detail the background to the promulgation of the law and China's current situation of population and family planning.
China.org.cn: Although the Population and Family Planning Law was formally implemented on September 1, family planning has actually been practiced as a basic policy of the nation for more than 20 years, proving highly effective. What was the central government’s original intention in creating such a law?
Zhao: Family planning affects all households since each person and each family must contend with the issue. Such a broad action needs a law to standardize its implementation. For example, what exactly are the people's rights and responsibilities in family planning? And what responsibilities should the government undertake in the process of implementing the law? All these aspects should be standardized by an act of law.
Actually, the government considered and discussed the legislation on family planning 20 years ago. Deng Xiaoping promoted the idea of family planning legislation as early as 1979. Chen Yun, another late Chinese leader, was also active. But conditions were not ripe at that time. The final promulgation and implementation of the Population and Family Planning Law was due to three factors: the central government attached a great deal of importance to the work; after years of implementing the basic policy it is now widely supported by the people; and a set of successive experiences have been formed which suit the country's current situation and modern economic and social development.
China.org.cn: What kind of impact will the implementation of the Population and Family Planning Law have on the government’s work and people's daily lives?
Zhao: The law sets high demands on the government, especially on the family planning administrative departments. For example, the family planning departments must now quickly change their ideas and style of operation. The methods used to implement family planning policy were formed under the circumstance of a planned economy. As a result, there were too many restrictions and oversimplified ways of handling things. Governmental departments must solve the problems hindering family planning development under the condition of new circumstances, continuously improve the quality of working staff, and guarantee the healthy and steady development of the undertaking.
Besides, to fully protect people's rights is the basic concern of the legislation. The law stipulates the legal rights of people and states that the government should create conditions for the people and provide them with suitable, safe and effective family planning services. The government should encourage and award those people who carry out family planning according to policy. It should help relieve people of their family concerns and gradually improve the social security system to enable people to benefit from the successful implementation of family planning.
China.org.cn: Thirty years have passed since China introduced family planning policy. What is the country's population situation like today?
Zhao: After 30 years of efforts, exponential population growth has been effectively controlled, and some 300 million births have been prevented. Under undeveloped economic circumstances and in a relatively short period of time, the country has realized a remarkably low birth rate.
China.org.cn: Since the nation’s high birth rate has been checked and the population growth rate has been reduced, is there any possibility the current policy may become more flexible and allow each couple to have two children?
Zhao: First, I'd like to explain China's family planning policy. China's family planning policy is not the "one child policy" as understood by some people. The government advocates each couple to have one child in accordance with the family planning policy. However, any couple facing genuine difficulties, mainly those in rural areas whose first child is a girl, can apply for the birth of second child by going through the necessary formalities. If couples in urban areas are both the product of a one child family they are entitled to produce a second child. Besides, the policies in ethnic minority areas are actually more flexible. Since specific birth policies are set by each province according to local circumstances, the conditions vary from province to province and from city to city. Even within one province, different areas may have different circumstances. Within a single area, different ethnic minority groups may also be subject to different policies.
China.org.cn: Some foreign media and people believe that the Population and Family Planning Law gives the impression that China's family planning policy has become more flexible. Is this a reasonable view?
Zhao: This understanding is not correct. Personally I think they may have the wrong impression probably because they do not properly understand the law in three respects. First is the policy on imposing a social levy. "Does this mean that a couple can have more children if they have enough money?" some people ask. My answer is no. By implementing a social levy, the government will necessarily restrict those people who run counter to state laws and regulations and give birth to more children. These people who have to pay the levy add not only their own family’s difficulties, but also to overall social difficulties. Second, the Population and Family Planning law clearly stipulates that those citizens who give birth to more children than permitted by regulation will have to face the consequences of legally imposed economic penalties. This is mandatory. The third policy objective is to protect and encourage those families which carry out family planning in agreement with the policy.
China.org.cn: Some foreign media and, in particular, Washington Post, have criticized family planning policy in China for endorsing regional differentiation and double standards. How do you think about these?
Zhao: Obviously the people who hold such views don’t have a very good understanding of China’s family planning policy. The existence of regional disparities is a long recognized observable fact and the family planning policy has been worked out by individual provinces based on the local conditions. Differing social and economic development in different places predetermines dissimilar policies.
In addition, aiming to establish a new system that completely changes the old way of implementing family planning through administrative directives, a comprehensive experiment on new birth control measures is currently being conducted in some places. The policies on trial are logically different from those of other areas. This has nothing at all to do with double standards.
China.org.cn: Some foreigners have criticized China’s policy of family planning for encroaching upon human rights. What are your comments with regard to this point?
Zhao: The Chinese government has spared no effort in protecting human rights. However, both history and reality clearly show that subsistence and development are prerequisites for guaranteeing the rights of individual humans. The great population pressure is a significant factor restraining China’s further development. Consequently, one of China’s most basic and protracted policies has been to practice family planning that reflects both the fundamental and long-term interests of the people and benefits the social and economic development of the country. In the final analysis, the ultimate goal of improving people’s livelihoods with the aid of birth control does not go against human rights.
Meanwhile, we have to admit that in the early days of family planning, to check the overgrowth of population, some inexperienced staff handled things in oversimplified and even uncivilized ways as there were no regulations controlling their actions. But what I have to mention here is that even in that time, there were principles in carrying out the family planning policy, which coupled proper guidance with voluntary participation. Now the Law on Population and Family Planning provides legal protection for the legitimate rights and interests of citizens. According to the law, those who implement birth control policies by taking oversimplified and uncivilized ways may be sued and punished.
China.org.cn: As far as we know, reproductive health care is part of China’s family planning. At present, the State Family Planning Commission is cooperating with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to launch a pilot project in 32 poverty-stricken counties in China. Would you give a brief account of the ongoing project?
Zhao: First, we plan to gradually substitute the old method of setting a standard for child-bearing with newer more relevant policies. Second, by making follow-up visits to patients, we are going to step by step issue service cards to replace the original child-bearing certificates. At the same time, we will educate the people on different methods of contraception and birth control so that they can make informed decisions.
China.org.cn: When will the new system be applied nationwide?
Zhao: Actually, along with our experiments in the selected places, the same systems have been implemented in over 800 counties, accounting for one-third of the total number of counties in China. So far, a full-scale introduction of the new measures has been made in Liaoning, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces and applied on trial in the west. According to the latest survey, issues such as a rebound in fertility rates and an increase in the percentage of abortions has not occurred in those areas where a knowledge of the new laws has been disseminated among the people. This proves that legal consultancy services and the dissemination of scientific knowledge relating to birth control are more effective measures than mandatory administrative orders.
(China.org.cn by staff reporter Hu Huiting, October 18, 2002)