Human Rights Report: China’s Open Multiple Births Bring More Discrimination to Women Due to Institutional Failures

During the more than three decades of one-child rule in China, Chinese women have suffered a level of persecution and devastation due to over-births that is rare in the world. A new report shows that the ongoing policy of multiple births is creating new discrimination and difficulties for Chinese women in the workplace.

In its report “China: Two-Child Policy Causes Widespread Discrimination,” released Tuesday (June 1), New York-based human rights group Human Rights Watch noted that the two-child policy means that each woman may need two maternity leaves, and that “many companies try to avoid maternity leave by advertising, interviewing new employees and treating them badly in the workplace. Many companies try to avoid maternity leave by treating women without children or with only one child differently in job advertisements, interviews and workplace treatment.”

The report also cites a variety of penalties, firings, and fines imposed by employers on pregnant employees. Other companies create work difficulties for pregnant workers, forcing them to quit on their own. The report cites a company in Jilin, northeast China, that forced an employee who was 7 1/2 months pregnant to work at a construction site.

Some companies even blatantly include maternity status in their job advertisements as a recruitment criterion. A Beijing-based garment company recently posted a managerial position on, requiring applicants to be “30 to 35 years old, married with children, good appearance, and in good shape,” the report said.

Human Rights Watch researcher Wang Yaqiu said it is understandable that the Chinese government is taking steps to encourage women to have more children in the face of China’s declining fertility rate and increasing aging problem. But, she said, “what the Chinese government should do is not to force women to have a second child ‘for the sake of the country,’ but to fulfill its obligations under international law to guarantee equal treatment in employment and reproductive rights.”

Wang Yachu said, “By pursuing higher fertility rates without proper employment guarantees, the Chinese government is giving employers a license to harass and discriminate against women.” She said, “Many women have taken to the Internet, the media and the courts to speak out about the violations they suffer in the workplace.”

China’s most recently released census showed that the country’s fertility rate, at 1.3, has fallen to its lowest level since 1961, also making it one of the countries with the lowest birth rates in the world. The Chinese government began abandoning its one-child policy in 2016 and began implementing a two-child policy, and on May 31, it announced that it was implementing a policy that allows a couple to have three children.

While the Chinese constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women, and Chinese law prohibits gender and employment discrimination in pregnancy, victims cannot find adequate avenues for redress due to a lack of institutional guarantees, the HRW report said. Their complaints are often unsuccessful. Even if they do win their cases, the compensation they receive does not cover the cost of filing a lawsuit, nor does it have any effective deterrent effect on companies.