At a news conference for China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee last Sunday, an amendment of the Family Planning Law was announced to cancel China’s so-called “late marriage leave” (晚婚假).
The amendment to the family planning law has come into effect on January 1st, 2016. Most newlyweds were previously entitled to a 3-day marriage leave plus the additional ‘late marriage leave’ that ranged from 7-30 days, depending on local policies. In China, the legal marriage age is 22 for men, and 20 for women. The ‘late marriage leave’ was meant for anyone who got married three years after their legal marriage age. With the revised policy, all Chinese newlyweds, no matter age or location, are only entitled to a 3-day leave.
The late marriage leave was introduced at the time of the one-child policy to encourage people to postpone marriage and childbirth (“晚婚晚育”) in order to help control China’s population growth. Now that China has started to adopt the two-child policy, the government no longer intends to encourage people to marry later on in life.
Propaganda posters encouraging late marriage and late childbirth.
On Sina Weibo, thousands of netizens commented on the news under the hashtag of “late marriage leave cancelled” (#晚婚假取消#). Many of them speak out against the new policy, believing that couples should be allowed longer paid leaves, also now that the two-child policy has been implemented.
“The government wants us to deliver more babies, but doesn’t help to reduce our stress.”
“The new policy just doesn’t make sense to me at all,” says Weibo user “ZPPPPL”: “The fact is that those who get married late need more vacations. The government wants us to deliver more babies, but doesn’t help to reduce our stress, nor does it offer us better welfare. That’s so unwise!”
According to Zhang Chunsheng (张春生), the head of legal affairs at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the average marriage age for Chinese is now 25. This is already older than the previously established ‘late marriage’ standard age.
User “Jennifer” does not understand why the late marriage leave policy coincides with the implementation of the two-child policy: “I don’t think couples will get married earlier just so they can have two kids. Getting married late is related to higher education and improved living conditions – that’s the reason why so many people choose to get married after 25 nowadays. We really need those longer marriage leaves to have a break.”
“The 30 day paid marriage leave was the sole motivation to tie the knot.”
Employees working at state-owned companies in China are entitled to five days of paid vacation per year. The late marriage leave is very important for many of them. Over the past few decades, Chinese couples have come to view the ‘late marriage leave’ as their right. Now that this right has been taken from them, many go online to vent their anger and voice their disappointment, saying they were already looking forward to their late marriage leave for a long time.
According to some netizens, the 30-day paid marriage leave was “the sole motivation to tie the knot”.
A user nicknamed “Heavy Manual Labor” complains: “The late marriage leave is a precious vacation for me, and now it’s canceled. The government really takes extreme measures to push those twenty- or thirty-somethings who are still unwed to get married and have two kids.”
Medical worker “Eileen” writes: “I don’t have enough time to get rest. The prospect of the late marriage leave was extremely important to me. What can I expect now that it is canceled? The government doesn’t encourage us to get married late now, but it also doesn’t encourage getting married young by offering any favorable policies.”
“How are we supposed to make make babies without our honeymoon?”
Aside from the worries of not getting that much-needed vacation, many netizens also worry about more practical issues, fearing that three days is not enough time to prepare for the wedding, let alone to go on a honeymoon.
User “Miss Wang” writes that three days is nowhere near enough time to cope with all the concerns before and after the wedding: “Have you ever considered the needs of couples who work far away from their hometowns, and who will already spend days just to get home for the wedding? You can’t just change the policy like it’s a game. This must be a joke.”
Another user “Jugeng Xiaoran” adds: “We need more than three days to prepare the wedding banquet. What about the honeymoon? Who wants to get married if we don’t even have time for a honeymoon? And how are we supposed to make babies without our honeymoon?”
“I will still marry late, I won’t have two kids, I am the boss of my own life.”
A number of Weibo users also criticize the government and the Party from a human rights perspective. “How many kids we want should be our own business. It’s our rights. But in China, it’s decided by the government. No wonder so many Chinese choose to migrate to other countries,” one user says.
“Go ahead and cancel our welfare,” user “RiveGauche” continues: “I will still marry late, I won’t have two kids, I am the boss of my own life. Meanwhile, I will work harder so that I can move to another country where there actually are human rights.”
The cancelation of China’s late marriage came without warning, and took five days from its announcement to its enforcement. Many netizens are caught by surprise, and suggest a ‘deadline cushion’ for future change in policies. Weibo user Vincent writes: “The cancelation itself is unreasonable, but what’s more, there is barely a buffer period for it. These kind of distressing policies will bring about social unrest.”
The amendment has led to a wave of last-minute marriage registrations. Since it passed on December 27, many couples rushed to get registered by January 1st so they would still be entitled to the late marriage leave.
According to the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau, there was a 30 percent increase in marriage registrations compared to the same period last year. In Shenzhen, the wedding registration offices were flooded with couples who hoped to get registered before the new rule would go into effect. “Getting registered for the sake of the late wedding leave” (#为晚婚假扎堆领证#) even became a hot topic on Sina Weibo.
One Weibo blogger predicts that China’s divorce application offices will be packed within a year. Another netizen agrees, and says that in China, marriage choices are distorted by policies. “And that is pathetic,” he concludes.
By Yiying Fan