Beijing: In China, a former law professor was sacked for defying its three-decade-old one-child policy. Yang Zhizhu was dismissed and fined a sum of $ 35,000 by the China Youth University for having a second girl child.
The 44-year-old professor has refused to pay the hefty fine, which amounts to several years' of his income, calling it ridiculous.
Experts have warned of looming problems from an aging population and a gender imbalance stemming from aborted or abandoned baby girls.
Debates about policy change and reform of the family planning regulations have grown over the years. The UN has projected that the country's working-age population will peak in 2015 and plunge by 23 per cent by 2050.
Yang's wife Chen Hong gave birth to their second daughter in December last year. Three months later, Yang was notified by officials from the China Youth University for Political Sciences that he was being sacked in addition to a fine of $ 35,000 US because he had violated Beijing's family planning regulations.
"Should there be a difference between giving birth to a first child and the second one? If there is, then are our two children unequal? If it is legal to have a first child, then it shouldn't be illegal to have a second one, otherwise it would be a kind of discrimination within our family," said Yang.
With the world's largest population straining scarce land and other resources, China has restricted most families to one child since the end of the 70s, though rules vary and a traditional preference for boys means families in the countryside are typically allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl.
Ethnic minorities have also been largely exempted.
Depending on where they live, couples can be fined thousands of dollars for having a second child without a permit, and forced abortions or sterilization have become flare points for mass riots in recent years.
In cities, only if parents are themselves both only children are they allowed to have two. Thirty-nine-year-old Chen Hong said the harsh policy deprives women of their basic rights.
"I hope this story will have a happy ending, and that society can take a step forward. After all, the policy violates our basic rights, it is insulting to women. We are deprived of privacy and the right to pursue our happiness, and choose our own way of life," said Chen.
An open letter, issued by the central government on September 25, 1980, marked the official beginning of the controversial family planning program and stated that it would last for 30 years.
But today's authorities, who maintain that it has prevented several hundred million births, have given no sign that they are about to scrap it.
Experts have warned of looming problems from an ageing population and a gender imbalance stemming from aborted or abandoned baby girls.
Many also say the increasing mobility of China's population make family planning policies ever more difficult to enforce.
"The inner structure of the population has lost its balance, and it is mainly reflected in two areas: one is the rapid aging process, the other is a widening gender gap," said Li Jianxin, a sociology professor at Peking university.
Experts are worried that Beijing is unprepared for the sheer speed at which China will age: on UN projections, the country's working-age population will peak in 2015 and plunge by 23 percent by 2050.
By then, there will be 438 million Chinese aged 60 or over, or 61 for every 100 adults of working age, up from just 16 in 2005, according to government figures.
More than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age could find themselves without spouses in 2020, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said, calling the imbalance the most serious demographic problem faced by the country's 1.3 billion population.
Li said social change in the cities means China's worries about a return to explosive population growth were the policy scrapped are now unwarranted.
"People's attitudes towards family life, the education they have had, and the cost of raising children in China will all affect their decisions, so it is very unlikely that everybody will have more children after the policy is loosened," he said.
Having more than one child seemed unimaginable to many young couples on the streets of Beijing, even if both of them being only children themselves meant they could have two.
"We are just going to have one child, even though both of us are only children. First of all, the government has been encouraging us to have just one child, and secondly, we can be more focused on one child," said 28-year-old newly wed Qi Wei.
But others felt having a sibling was important. "I grew up lonely because I was the only child. Therefore, I hope I can have two kids, so they can grow up together," said 22-year-old student Jin Zhipeng.
Debates about policy change have gone on for years, and reports surfaced recently that the government might allow couples with one spouse who is an only child to have a second child in some provinces.
Despite rumours in early 2008 that the one-child policy would be overturned, in May of that year China's top population official said it would not be eliminated for at least a decade, when a large demographic wave of childbearing-age citizens is expected to ebb.
A once-a-decade national census will kick off on November 1, and many hope the data will prove crucial to the reform of the policy.