Hukou, also known as the Chinese household-registration system, is the most important thing for many Chinese families. It is a sign of social status, a ticket to urban welfare, and a key factor when it comes to dating and marriage.
Designed as a system to manage the population and labor force within the country, the system has fundamental flaws that has kept more than 13 million Chinese nationals out of the system. The babies born without a legal Hukou are called “Hei Hu”, literal translation of black household residence. There are many reasons that gave rise to these issues: From babies born outside the state one-child policy to babies who were born out of wedlock, they all became the unrecognized and forgotten by society.
Without proper Hukou documents, they are ‘undocumented citizens’. They are not entitled to have a valid identification ID, and thus are not entitled to attend local schools or receive social benefits. Ultimately, their chances of getting a good education and bright career prospects are significantly reduced due to their social status, or to be more precise, lack of social status.
Having recognized the issue in 2016, the Chinese Department of State ordered local household registration officials to include these individuals who do not have a valid hukou. The Chinese government eased up the requirements to enroll into the household-registration system, including issuing hukou to those who violated the one-child policy, and those born out of wedlock.
After three years, the topic became popular on Chinese social media once again. It could be about the potential signs of abolishing the one-child policy, or addressing the solutions to combat the country’s aging population.
While many recognized the effort as a progressive sign, Chinese conservative critics presented a negative view towards issuing identification to babies born out of wedlock. They believe the policies are encouraging pre-marital sex and affairs outside of marriage.
Putting controversies aside, the changes in household registration in 2016 gave Chinese women more choices. Instead of raising a child only after marrying a man, Chinese women could now consider raising their children without having to be legally married. It could be a dramatic change to same-sex couples, whose marriages are yet to be recognized by the Chinese government. It also opened new options for women who do not want to get married to become mothers.
However, hukou applicants are still facing tough vetting processes. Applicants need to submit proof of having parental relations with the newborn child, and show that they are not married to someone else.
It is clear that the Chinese system for newborn babies is drastically different from that in the west. In most developed countries in North America and Europe. Newborn babies can get their birth certificates without having to worry about the number of children that the family has, or the marital status of the newborn’s mother. While birth certificates are not always tied to receiving citizenship, the different approaches on handling newborn babies suggest that China need to make more changes to achieve gender equality in the near future.
With restrictions on newborn babies, ironic scenes may occur more often: For single mothers who are about to give birth to their child, it would even be a better option to fly to the United States or Canada to give birth. At least a Canadian or American-born child will be entitled to a Canadian or US citizenship with a valid birth certificate, yet giving birth to a child in China would lead to endless troubles having to provide the proper documents to have their child enrolled into the Hukou system.
China is suffering from low birth rates. Reports from Reuters suggests the country’s birth rate is reaching its lowest point since 1949. With more citizens reaching the age of retirement and starting to claim their pension benefits, the country’s finance system faces tremendous pressure and challenges ahead. While a massive labor force was, at one point, China’s largest asset, the implementation of the country’s one-child policy is now turning the demographics against the Chinese government. Its interference with the citizens’ body and the rights to breed is now facing challenges that they might not have a good solution to.
Indeed, loosening the restrictions and allowing undocumented newborn babies to be included in the household registration system is a progressive policy that should be encouraged. But on the other hand, it should be noted that these policies are coming from the context of a country’s declining birth rates and aging population. Is the Chinese government really pushing for positive and progressive changes, or do they view it as an incentive to encourage the “reproductive tools” in the country to raise more children? This is a question worth pondering on.
Featured photo credit to view.163.com