China expels 500 from party over illegal births

Chinese Communist Party cadres defy the country's one-child policy at their peril. Family planning officials in the central province of Hubei have expelled 500 party members for breaching the rules.

There are growing signs that the central government is taking an ever-tougher line on population control. The authorities in Hubei said 93,084 people had breached the policy last year, including 1,678 officials, Xinhua news agency reported.

Of the offending cadres, 500 were expelled from the Communist Party, 395 were dismissed from their posts, and seven national and local lawmakers lost their political status.

"More party members, celebrities, and well-off people are violating the policies in recent years, which has undermined social equality," said Yang Youwang, director of the family planning commission.

Under the one-child policy, which China launched in 1980 to control population growth, most families are limited to one child.

There are exceptions. In rural areas, couples are allowed have a second child if the first-born is a girl, a practice that has boosted a traditional preference for boys, and there have been reports of forced abortions and female infanticide.

Although ultrasound tests to determine the baby's gender are technically illegal, underground scans and gender-selective abortions have led to 118 boys being born for every 100 girls, potentially threatening social stability as more men have difficulty finding wives.

The policy was seen as a way of reining in population growth which was already running at dangerously high levels in the world's most populous nation. Increasingly, the one-child policy is becoming meaningless to the new rich in China's cities, who merely pay the fine, a multiple of the main breadwinner's declared salary, and have the extra children.

But the government is still keen on the policy, althought there are calls from the richer southern provinces to abandon it, because of a growing labour shortage. The country also faces the threat of a greying population.

Since the policy was introduced, more than 400 million births have been prevented, officials believe. There is now an average birth rate of 1.8 children per couple in China, compared to six children when it was introduced.

There have been some remarkable stories of rule-breaking. In the neighbouring province of Hubei, 2,000 officials and celebrities were discovered to have breached rules between 2000 and 2005, including a lawmaker who had four children by four mistresses.

Enforcing the rules has been difficult, with families becoming increasingly mobile because of the huge social movement in China. Now the Hubei authorities have approved new rules barring offenders from government employment for three years, or holding elective office, or being political advisers.

A survey shows that most wealthy or well-known Chinese had two children, and 10 per cent had three.

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