Quake shakes one-child policy

Almond-shaped eyes; a young face of poignant beauty reminiscent of Hu Die — the Shanghai film star of yesteryears. The impression is helped by the stark, retro-like monochrome photo. But the leap of imagination is clipped almost immediately by the black ribbon draped around the photo and the grieving man clutching it. Bi Yuexing would have been a great beauty. But the sixth-year grader did not live to blossom. She was among the 127 children who died when the walls of their school collapsed almost instantaneously, shattered by the Sichuan earthquake on a Monday afternoon.

Cradling the framed portraits of their dead children from Fuxin No. 2 primary school in Mianzhu city, grieving parents have been holding vigils and prayers among the debris of the former school. They have been besieging local leaders with questions about the shoddy quality of school buildings and demanding justice for their dead children. But on Sunday their grief turned to anger. They ignored the pleas of the local party chief who got down on his knees to beg them to entrust the investigation of the deaths of the children to his authority. The parents shouted at him and marched to meet vice-mayors from Deyang, which oversees Mianzhu.

“We need justice from the government,” Xu Jun, one of the bereaved fathers, told the Southern Metropolis News. The challenge mounted against the authorities — a rare display of civil disobedience in a country that frowns on protests, shines light on the depth of loss that thousands of parents in this city and other quake-stricken areas have suffered. More than 10,000 were killed in Mianzhu, and officials say at least 2,000 of the dead were children and teachers crushed when 11 primary schools collapsed.

The official death toll from the magnitude 8 quake, China’s worst in more than 50 years, rose to more than 68,000 on Thursday. State media reported that nearly 10,000 children and teachers are among those that perished. Many of the parents lost an only child. For the last 30 years China has practiced strict population control policy, limiting couples to having one child and meting out tough punishments for those who violated the one-child rule. But with so many families bereaved by the quake, local officials have moved quickly to soothe tempers by announcing relaxations of the policy for all parents whose children were killed or disabled by the disaster. Early this week the Chengdu population and family planning commission — in the capital of quake-stricken Sichuan province, announced eligible families can come forward to obtain a certificate for having another child.

Local officials eager to meet population quotas have frequently been accused of forcing women to submit to abortions or sterilizations to keep the birth rate down. The tough enforcement of one-child rules has led to violent protests, most recently in southern Guangxi province where thousands of farmers rioted against population control fines they said were imposed arbitrarily and brutally. In Sichuan where the deadly force of nature killed thousands of children, the tragedy amplified by the limitations imposed by the state policy. In quake-hit towns like Mianzhu and Beichuan, the majority of parents were migrant workers and farmers working long hours to better the future of a sole offspring. — IPS