What's the message in Sichuan's new birth registration policy?

Wan Lixin
New Sichuan Province rules don't require marriage to register a child, but legal voices are warning against using this as an inducement for having children out of wedlock.
Wan Lixin

Marriage is no longer a prerequisite for registering a child in Sichuan Province under the latest regulations.

Although legal experts have warned against viewing this as an incentive for having children out of wedlock, it might remove some qualms some people might have had about such children.

This regulation, drawn up by relevant departments in Sichuan Province, goes into effect on February 15, following similar policies adopted or deliberated in Guangdong, Shaanxi and Anhui provinces.

Responding to social concerns, Sichuan authorities clarified that the updates were not intended to encourage people to have children born out of wedlock but rather to protect the rights of those who become pregnant without marriages so that they, too, could access related health benefits and services after completing birth registration.

Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, birth registration is not the same as the documents required for hukou (household registration). Online birth registration is still a possibility, and its main goal is to inform would-be parents of their rights and obligations with regard to their unborn children.

In an official interpretation of the provincial regulations, it said the removal of marriage as a requirement would help in shifting such registration to the more central aspect of the volition and outcome of giving birth to children, in a signal return to the basics and essentials of such registration, i.e., the monitoring of population and the provision of birth-related services.

Similar regulations were adopted by Guangdong Province on May 1, 2022, and it was made clear that prospective parents would no longer need to wait for approval from the relevant departments before having children. Additionally, the registration process would be significantly simplified and improved, making it a more seamless process for all those who wish to have children.

In a symbolic move, such registration would no longer be checked to see if the birth complies with provincial family planning laws, and therefore would no longer be subject to safeguards intended to deter parents from having too many children.

Regional regulations published in Shaanxi Province in June 2022 stated that "spouses should register from the start of pregnancy to within six months after the delivery, but registration could also apply to children born under other circumstances."

Anhui Province followed suit, stating in August 2022 that both the number of previous children and the marriage status would cease to be factors affecting such registration.

All these initiatives could be viewed as regional responses to demands made by the national government in 2021 to "improve the birth registration system."

In a way, this acts as a policy assurance for the existing legal rules that grant unmarried children the same rights as children born in wedlock.

Clearly, these policies would ease any worries mothers might have after giving birth and make a big contribution to the growth of a birth-friendly society.

Public policy should be based on respecting individual choice. The issue of children born without the blessing of marriage would continue to be one that could be studied from ethical and moral viewpoints. But, it is unfair to treat children differently because of events that are beyond their control.

Such actions would be important for confronting worrying demographic trends.

According to the most recent statistics, China's population as a whole experienced a net decrease last year for the first time in 61 years. Although the development was historical, it was hardly surprising. In more ways than one, this was a premeditated result.

For instance, the front page headline of the Qilu Evening News on April 2, 2003, stated, "The Province to Hit Zero-Growth in Population by 2022," in reference to the strategic family planning goal. Zero growth was, of course, a desirable goal at the time and much anticipated, especially by demographic experts.

Less than 20 years on, one of the most compelling public consensus issues today is how to improve the demographics and stem the population decline in a fast-graying nation.

Hopefully, the new local birth registration will contribute to conveying the right message.

Special Reports