Two health officials in southern China have been suspended for refusing to investigate the case of a baby who was taken away more than 30 years ago because his parents had breached the one-child policy by having seven children.
On Friday, the public health bureau in Quanzhou county, Guangxi, triggered a public outcry when they told parents Tang Yueying and Deng Zhensheng that their petition for an investigation would not be granted and dismissed their concerns that the boy had been trafficked.
“The child born in breach of the birth control policy, your seventh child, was taken away for social adjustment on behalf of the county and there was no child abduction and trafficking,” the bureau said in a statement to the parents.
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“No records have been kept of the whereabouts of the excess children so the bureau will not handle your petition.”
The statement said that at the time the county had a policy that one child from a family that broke the rules would be taken away for “social adjustment”, meaning children could “legally” be given up for adoption to deal with the “severe family planning and birth control” situation.
According to the Xian-based newspaper Huashang Daily, the boy was born in August 1989 and forcibly taken away from Tang, now 69, when she was staying in a hostel about a year later.
“Three women suddenly stormed into my room and took away my child. Two men were standing outside … I cried and tried very hard to hold on to my baby but eventually they took it away from me,” she told the newspaper.
The parents contacted police, who refused to investigate the case.
Chinese social media users reacted with anger to the statement after it was posted on the social media platform Weibo. On Tuesday, some hashtags about the case were attracting between 70 and 100 million views.
“How can the government take a family’s children away and say it’s for social adjustment? Can the pain of family separation also be adjusted?” wrote one Weibo user.
On Tuesday the authorities in the city of Guilin, which oversees Quanzhou county, announced that the director and deputy director of the county health bureau had been suspended pending investigation.
“An in-depth investigation will be carried out to understand details and effectively safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the petitioners,” the city government said in a statement.
The official Guangxi Daily newspaper also reported that inspectors from the disciplinary authorities and government agencies would investigate the handling of the case. Meanwhile, Beijing Daily reported that police would now look into the matter.
China introduced the one-child policy in the 1970s to reduce the country’s population, punishing violations with heavy fines or even forced abortions.
However some degree of flexibility was allowed for couples in rural areas – such as the boy’s parents – or ethnic minorities.
In 2011 Caixin magazine reported that some babies had been forcibly taken away from their parents and sent to foster homes for violations of birth control policies in a county in Hunan. Some of the babies were adopted by couples overseas.
The report triggered an official investigation, which dismissed the claim of baby trafficking but punished 12 local officials and family planning workers for mishandling the adoption.
The Chinese government has eased restrictions on family size in recent years amid growing concern about an ageing population and potential demographic time bomb.
The official policy now encourages families to have three children, and all limits on family size and penalties for exceeding them have been lifted.
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