When an only child dies in China

Mr Fan Guohui comforting his wife, Madam Zheng Qing, as they show their son's resting place to reporters on their visit to the graveyard in Zhangjiakou, China, last Sunday. Madam Zheng Qing hugging her dead son's favourite jacket during an interview
Mr Fan Guohui comforting his wife, Madam Zheng Qing, as they show their son's resting place to reporters on their visit to the graveyard in Zhangjiakou, China, last Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Madam Huang Peiyao, 54, crying as she shows her son's photo to reporters at her Zhangjiakou home last Sunday. Her son died in a 2011 car accident.
Madam Huang Peiyao, 54, crying as she shows her son's photo to reporters at her Zhangjiakou home last Sunday. Her son died in a 2011 car accident.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Fan Guohui comforting his wife, Madam Zheng Qing, as they show their son's resting place to reporters on their visit to the graveyard in Zhangjiakou, China, last Sunday. Madam Zheng Qing hugging her dead son's favourite jacket during an interview
Madam Zheng Qing hugging her dead son's favourite jacket during an interview at her house in Zhangjiakou last Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Easing of China's one-child policy too late for those grieving loss of sole offspring

BEIJING • Madam Cui Wenlan was devastated when she heard the news last month that China was scrapping its one-child policy. She is among more than a million grieving Chinese parents who have lost the only child the government allowed them to have.

Madam Cui's son was 30 when he died after an illness and she had been forced to abort her second baby in 1985. Now she and her husband are adrift in a country where parents traditionally rely on their children to look after them in old age.

"If, back then, we had been allowed to give birth again, I wouldn't be in so much trouble and wouldn't be so lonely," said Madam Cui, 53, from the northern city of Zhangjiakou.

Madam Cui's story underscores the punitive nature of China's family planning policy, beyond the more well-known stories of forced abortions and sterilisations, and highlights the plight of an estimated million "shidu" families, or those who have lost their only child.

China, the world's most populous country with nearly 1.4 billion people, says the one-child policy has averted 400 million births since 1980, saving scarce food resources and helping to pull families out of poverty .

ONUS ON GOVERNMENT

At that time, we complied with the government's arrangement and were forced to abide by the one-child policy. Now that we have ended up in this situation, the government should be held accountable.

MADAM A. LI , who lost her only son in 2009 in a traffic accident, and whose bid for compensation over the death was futile

The policy, however, will be eased when the ruling Communist Party last month said it will allow all couples to have two children. But the timeframe for implementation is yet to be known.

Madam Cui's husband, Mr Gao Zhao, said the government of Zhangjiakou gives the couple 680 yuan (S$150) a month in compensation, an amount that falls far short of what is needed in a country where there is little in the way of welfare or health benefits.

"We are rural people and don't have much education," Mr Gao said.

"The state told us what to do and we followed."

Madam Cui said she could not get surgery after being injured in a car accident because she did not have a child to sign the agreement for surgery.

Madam A. Li (not her real name), a mother who lost her only son in 2009 in a traffic accident, told Radio Free Asia she has made five trips to Beijing to petition the National Health and Family Planning Commission for compensation after the death of her child. But her efforts have been futile.

"At that time, we complied with the government's arrangement and were forced to abide by the one-child policy. Now that we have ended up in this situation, the government should be held accountable," said the 53-year-old woman from Hangzhou in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

Mr Fan Guohui, 56, has also petitioned the government to support "shidu" parents financially and emotionally. His son died in a car accident in 2012.

Mr Fan's wife, Madam Zheng Qing, said the couple was "emotionally ruined".

"One-child families are walking a tightrope," Mr Fan said.

"Once you lose your child, you lose all hope."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'When an only child dies'. Print Edition | Subscribe