Chinese to curb migrant births

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FOR THE past decade, China's army of 100 million migrant rural workers has manned the production lines of a boom economy. But now it is being blamed for boosting output in an unwanted sector - illicit babies born outside the strict family planning rules.

Under a regulation announced yesterday, migrant workers must from 1 January 1999 carry a new certificate stating their "marriage and reproductive status", while employers and landlords of transient labourers will be expected to help to enforce birth control measures.

China's controversial family planning regime was introduced at a time when most of the population stayed put in home towns and villages, and was carefully monitored by the local contraceptive cadres. But economic reform and a relaxation of social controls brought the freedom for unemployed peasants to seek casual work in the cities. There they fall outside the strict pregnancy quota system.

In Shanghai, migrant workers make up less than an eighth of the permanent population, but the rate of unplanned births by transients is 12 times that of Shanghai residents. The state family planning minister, Zhang Weiqing, this week said uncontrolled births among the floating population had created "great pressure" on the government's birth-control efforts.

For rural families, migration to a city can be an opportunity to outwit regulations which, in most rural areas, limit couples to two, well-spaced children. Li Caiyun, for instance, came to Peking from Sichuan province in February with his wife who was three months pregnant, without permission. Back in his home village there would have been enormous pressure to have an abortion. In Peking, Mr Li worked on a building site until last month when the baby was due and it was too late for the authorities to act.

The new "regulation on family planning administration of the transient population" is designed to crack down on such migrant pregnancies, but implementation may prove difficult. The rule states that the local government where the migrant worker is temporarily living must take responsibility for implementing birth control restrictions. Couples found to have fabricated, sold or bought bogus birth-control certificates will be fined up to 1,000 yuan (pounds 700), it said.