Is China Beginning to Accept Its Single Mothers?

IMAGE: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images


Many new and expectant mothers make numerous decisions on a daily basis. Mothers often ask themselves questions such as, “Will I choose to have my child at home or in a hospital?” “Will I need to sell that table to make room for the new crib?” “Should I tell my parents what names I’m considering for the baby, or should I keep it a surprise?”


For Xiao Pan, single Chinese mother of a now four-year-old boy, these questions were dramatically different. Xiao had to ask herself, “Will I choose to keep my child?” “Will I need to sell my kidney to make sure he gets medical care?” “Should I tell my parents my baby exists?”


One of the primary reasons for Xiao’s dilemmas was her status as an unmarried mother.  In China, single motherhood is punished with significant fines, and carries an unshakable stigma that is arguably equally devastating.  While sex outside of marriage has been legal since 1997, having a child out of wedlock is still seen as disgraceful.  The twofold punishment of financial penalties and discrimination from society drives many unmarried mothers to take drastic measures to remain undiscovered.


A heartbreaking example of this is the case of the "Sewer Baby"  from last May. After unexpectedly giving birth alone in her bathroom, this baby’s unmarried mother accidentally let the child slip from her hands into the sewer pipe. Wanting to hide evidence of the birth, the mother then flushed the blood, along with her child, down the sewer. Even after rescuers pried the baby from the sewer pipe and provided medical treatment, this mother refused to claim the child as her own. Eventually investigators identified the mother and the baby was released to its maternal grandparents.


The fear of facing punishment motivated this mother to disown her baby and this same fear motivates many unmarried mothers to terminate their pregnancies through abortion. Of the 13 million abortions occurring annually in China, “many, if not most” of them come from unmarried women. This fact is unsurprising considering the seemingly insurmountable challenges China’s single mothers face. According to Zhou Anqin, who manages an abortion clinic in China, “The moral outrage over having a child before marriage in [Chinese] society is much stronger than the shame associated with abortion,” and perhaps this is why abortion numbers in China are on the rise. Abortion as a method of hiding unwanted children in China must stop.


While many unmarried women choose to abort their children or dispose of them in some way, Xiao resolved to “be strong” and raise her child, “no matter how hard it [would] be.”  Instead of receiving support, however, Xiao endured negativity from her friends, rejection from her parents, and fines from the government. Mothers who deal with the One-Child Policy also face substantial fines and pressure to abandon their children, but Xiao had to manage her struggles without a husband’s support. While Xiao acknowledged her “responsibility” to her baby and chose to raise the boy herself, her boyfriend did not. Instead of assuming responsibility for the child, Xiao’s boyfriend took their collective savings and deserted Xiao when she was six months pregnant.


Even though China still frowns upon single motherhood, Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, experienced backlash against its decision to raise fines for unmarried mothers last summer. Following this resistance, officials tempered the initial plans, and according to Chinese Family Planning Officials, Hubei never actually applied the heightened fines. Since then, Hubei has begun to issue free birth certificates for children of unmarried mothers. This is significantly helpful because a legal birth certificate allows mothers to obtain a hukou for their child, which in turn grants them access to valuable services like education and medical care.


Although policies concerning unmarried mothers have loosened in recent years, women in this situation still face difficult hurdles like rejection from family members and discrimination in the workplace. In the face of these challenges it is not surprising that many women turn to abortion to alleviate their shame.


All Girls Allowed’s motto, “In Jesus’ Name Simply Love Her,” calls us to do as Jesus did and “simply love” these mothers and their children, regardless of their past choices and current struggles. Godly love is not judgmental and condemning, but rather, “endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:7). We praise God for Hubei’s step towards protecting unmarried mothers, but there is still much work to do in changing attitudes towards single mothers in China. Pray for these women who experience extreme pressure from family, friends, and Chinese Family Planning Officials, and let us applaud the women who risk tainting their public reputations by choosing to keep their precious children. 


All Girls Allowed ( was founded by Chai Ling in 2010 with a mission to display the love of Jesus by restoring life, value and dignity to girls and mothers in China and revealing the injustice of the One-Child Policy.  “In Jesus’ Name, Simply Love Her.”

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