Is the Stigma Around Single Mothers in China Starting to Shift?
In China, life as a single mother is likely considered the last position a woman should find herself in. If a woman does have a child out of wedlock, she would be subject to fines and be excluded from receiving reimbursement for medical expenses during her pregnancy. Not to mention, she would face the stigma that comes along with rearing a child in a nation with a strict one-child policy.
China’s so-called sexual revolution is attributed to the rising number of single parents. Premarital sex was illegal in China until 1997, and is no longer considered as “taboo” as it once was in previous decades. In addition, upwards of 50% of unmarried couples believe pre-marital sex is completely fine. In some ways, the one-child policy also helped women become more liberal sexually, as researcher Pan Suiming relayed in The Guardian:
After the Cultural Revolution, the government’s control [of people's lives] started loosening, and at the same time the one-child policy meant people could have sex lives that weren’t for the purpose of giving birth. They could have sex for pleasure.
Despite this “sexual revolution,” there is one glaring issue facing young adults in China: less than 10% of all couples engaging in pre-martial intercourse received any sort of formal sex education. Instead, many cite the internet as their main source for learning about the topic. Attitudes towards sex are easing, yet the level of knowledge regarding safe practices is stagnant.
As such, while women in China have greater relative access to abortions, many who choose to have their baby often stand alone. It is often difficult to enforce child support payments because no legal protections are in place for single parents. In regions of the county such as Beijing, parents of children born out of wedlock must pay a “social maintenance fee,” even if it is the mother’s first child. In the most extreme cases, women lie about their status as a single mother in order to gain acceptance in their new towns. While there are no statistics available on how many children are born to unmarried women, there is a lack of community for these new mothers that make the experience even more isolating.
Fortunately, the public stance on single motherhood is slowly starting to shift. Well, sort of. In December of 2013, the province of Hubei began issuing free birth certificates to single parents thanks to a new regulation. Birth certificates provide individuals with household registration, which gives access to basic services, including education, social security and healthcare. This regulation is not in place in every province, but does show that officials realize the importance in providing basic protections for children, regardless of their parent’s marital status.
Moving forward, Hubei’s new health regulation is a strong example of the type of action that needs to happen to shift public opinions regarding this matter. However, traditional gender roles and the one-child policy dictate much of the perception regarding child rearing. While single mothers have found solidarity through online communities, the existing system — from social maintenance fees to a lack of legal protections — will clearly continue to isolate and stigmatize single mothers.
Photo Credit: China Supertrends