By Karna Swanson
BEIJING, MAY e0, 2008 (Zenit.org).- While it's good news that China is relaxing its one-child policy for victims of the country's recent earthquake, one mustn't forget the "sad brutality" of the rule, according to author Mark Miravalle.
The Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee of the Sichuan province, hit hard by the May 12 earthquake, announced Monday that families affected by the disaster can obtain a certificate to have another child.
The earthquake, China's deadliest since 1976, struck the Sichuan province of China with a magnitude of 7.9. The death toll is over 68,000, but it is expected to rise as more than 20,000 are still missing.
"I think we have to thank God and rejoice with him whenever there is a new acceptance of precious human life, in whatever form or for whatever motive," said Miravalle, a professor of theology and Mariology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and author of "The Seven Sorrows of China."
"At the same time," he added, "this exception to the one-child policy should not distract from, but rather shed light upon the continuous tragic enormity and sad brutality of the nationwide rule."
"One hopes that this is an expression of authentic compassion and sympathy by the Chinese government for the calamity experienced by their people, and not something closer to a more utilitarian concept of human replacement," noted Miravalle.
The announced exemption to the one-child policy affects couples living in the city of Chengdu, which has 10 million people, as well as two of the hardest-hit cities nearby, Dujiangyan and Pengzhou, reported the Associated Press. It could possibly also affect families in Qingchuan.
Rewards and penalties
China's one-child policy was instituted in 1979 to control population growth, and through a system of rewards and penalties it urges families, primarily in urban areas, to only have one child.
Rural families are generally allowed a second child, five years after the birth of the first, especially if the first was a girl.
According to the government, the policy has prevented 400 million births.
Critics say China regularly abuses individual liberties in implementing the policy through heavy fines and dismissal from work, as well as forced abortions and sterilizations.
The exemption highlights some of these stricter elements of the policy's implementation. For example, parents who are paying fines for having a second child illegally will no longer be responsible for outstanding fines. The previously paid fines, however, won't be refunded.
Additionally, if a legally born child was killed in the quake, an illegal child can be registered as the legal child; illegal children are normally denied government benefits, such as a free education.
To have a second child, the couple must first apply for a permit.
Miravalle recalled, however, that "many Chinese women are sterilized immediately after giving birth to their first child without giving their consent," thus calling into question how many couples will be able to have a second child.
The Chinese government has said there are no limits on the number a family can adopt, even if the couple already has, or will have in the future, their own biological child.
An estimated 4,000 children were orphaned in the quake, reported the Associated Press.
"While we again can be glad for this glimmer of progress," Miravalle continued, "something remains gravely wrong with this distressing denial of human respect and freedom, even if it represents some form of partial improvement from an overall no second-child policy."