Couples who lost an only child in the Sichuan earthquake have been given an exemption from the One Child Policy and pressured to take big cash payments in the latest effort to smooth any social unrest ahead of next week's Olympic Games in Beijing.
The father of one of the children who died in the Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan during the quake on 12 May said they had been, in effect, told to sign a deal that gives them a payment of 160,000 yuan (£11,800) for each child.
"They asked us to sign a contract to apply for social relief. But this is just a kind of compensation from the government for our loss, for our lost children. The government wrote the contract itself. They just told us to sign it," said the father, whose identity has been protected. His son died in the 7.9-magnitude earthquake, in which more than 87,000 people were killed or are missing.
He also said the parents had been told they were allowed to have another child, even though the One Child Policy of population control does not allow that. The standing committee of the Sichuan provincial People's Congress passed rules on Friday setting out the terms of the deal, saying which couples would be allowed to have more children.
More than 90 per cent of the hundreds of children who died at the Juyuan Middle School were only children. "Both officials and ordinary people said parents whose children died or were crippled in the quake had to be permitted to have another," Wang Yukun, vice-chairman of the standing committee, told the China Daily newspaper, which is the main English-language publication in China.
The earthquake in the mountainous province in south-western China was particularly hard on children because it struck at 2.28pm, when many children were at school. Parents were angry at the number of school buildings that fell in the quake and believe official corruption was behind the poor construction standards in many of the schools.
The parents of the children at Juyuan have tried to present petitions to the local government but have faced strong official opposition. Public displays of anger are not tolerated as they are socially destabilising and the official response has been a mixture of stick and carrot – some parents were detained by police after the event and there were offers of major compensation to calm other angry mothers and fathers.