It's no scarlet letter, but the central China city of Wuhan's plan to fine mothers who have a child out of wedlock has sparked charges of discrimination and could lead to an increase in abandoned babies. It would be the first time that out-of-wedlock children have been expressly singled out by one of China's municipalities, which have flexibility in how they enforce China's population-control policies. The proposed "social compensation fee" also comes just days after the rescue of a young unmarried mother's newborn from a sewer pipe. "If the policy is approved, there could be more 'sewer babies,' because when mothers can't afford the cost, they might think about throwing their babies away," says a gender equality expert.
Wuhan's draft policy says that "the parties" should pay the fee in cases of births that are out of wedlock or when one side knowingly has a child with someone who's married. But, as the expert says, "it looks like the policy is targeted just at women." She said unmarried mothers already face discrimination, including being barred from receiving government maternity benefits. Wuhan's proposed rule would be the first time that bearing a child when unmarried has been spelled out as a separate offense, says a professor of population studies at Renmin University. "We need to distinguish between the legal and moral aspects" and define what a family is nowadays, he adds.