In 1979 China introduced one of the largest social engineering efforts in human history – the ‘one-child policy’ – to combat population growth. In addition to leaving the country with problematic demographic imbalances, this family planning policy has created an underclass of 13 million unregistered people, all born ‘illegally’. Parents with more than one child have been fired from their jobs and burdened with exorbitant fines or fees to register their unsanctioned children. Even more troubling, people without official registration are not classed as Chinese citizens, and so can’t access even the most basic forms of social welfare, including healthcare, education and protection under the law, nor do they have the right to work or marry. In 2015 the Chinese Communist Party announced it would ease the one-child policy and grant residence rights to all unregistered people, but millions must still fight arduous bureaucratic battles to be granted basic rights.
Invisible lives: a legacy of China’s family planning rules