Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Chinese to evict migrant families

The ability of an army of migrant workers to slip through the net of China's tough population controls has prompted a crackdown in the booming southern city of Shenzhen, where 906 migrant families are being thrown out of town with two weeks' notice because they have exceeded the permitted birth rate.

The Peking Economic Daily yesterday reported that the Shenzhen city authorities had confiscated the migrants' residence certificates, revoked their labour permits and business licences, and ordered the housing department to stop renting apartments and shops to them.

All city residents in China must have a hukou, or household registration, and when migrants arrive and settle in an urban area they must obtain a temporary registration. The 906 families will probably return to their rural home villages, or move to another coastal city.

The penalty for breaking family-planning regulations can be severe. In impoverished areas, peasants face having their houses demolished. In cities, punishments are heavy fines and demotion at work. In April this year, a Peking court fined one couple 50,000 yuan (pounds 4,000) for having a second child. Human rights groups have documented cases of forced abort- ions and sterilizations.

The government is desperate to make sure China's population does not exceed 1.3 billion by 2,000. The strict population-control policy permits one child per couple in cities, and usually two in the countryside. However, China has up to 100 million rural workers who over the past decade have moved into the cities and fast-growing coastal regions where work in factories and construction sites is available. Their mobility has meant they have escaped many of the family-planning restrictions imposed on the indigenous city population and static rural inhabitants.

Wang Guoqing, the Family Planning Commission policy director, said: "The transient population in keeps growing because most members in this group are of reproductive age, and many stay away from their home towns for a long time."

According to regulations, the migrant worker's home town and his or her new place of residence in theory share responsibility for compliance with family planning regulations. In practice, neither is likely to be monitoring the situation. Migrant workers often rent accom-modation through private land- lords, and move from job to job, escaping the strict vigilance of permanent city residents who must obtain permission from their "work units" to marry or to get pregnant.

The fact that the Shenzhen case was reported in the Peking Economic Daily probably means the city government is eager to demonstrate to Peking that it is cracking down on illicit births. Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong and the site of China's first Special Economic Zone, is one of the richest parts of the country. In such regions, wealthy rural families are now opting to pay the fines or the bribes necessary in order to enable them to have more children.

China's family planning programme has been widely criticized by Western countries for its punitive nature. Over the past year, the government has admitted it has failed to convince peasant families of the benefits of fewer children, and now says it is putting more emphasis on linking family planning to alleviation of poverty.