Authorities in southern China have penalized 11 officials for allowing a couple to have 15 children over two decades after the large family aroused suspicion amid a public outcry over women forced to marry and bear children.
Liang Er, 77, and Lu Honglan, 47, from a poverty-stricken village in Rongxian county, Guangxi autonomous region, had four boys and 11 girls between 1995 and 2016 due to the local government's ineffective family planning, the Guangxi government said in a statement on Sunday.
During the period concerned, China allowed each family to have just one child and later changed it to two. It has so far relaxed the limit to three in wake of a falling birth rate and an ageing population.
The couple is not officially registered as husband and wife, but they have lived together and had the children by mutual consent, said the statement. It was issued in response to public suspicion that Lu might have been forced to do so after the high-profile chained woman case in Jiangsu province triggered an uproar over the state of disadvantaged women, especially in rural China.
In that case, 17 officials in Jiangsu were sacked, punished or were under investigation after a mentally-ill woman was found chained up by the neck by her husband, who bought her in 1998 and then had eight children with her, triggering widespread anger.
The case prompted the Ministry of Public Security to launch a nationwide operation earlier this month to check on women and children without identity details, especially those who are homeless or mentally or physically handicapped.
The Liang family became famous online as early as 2016 for the unusual number of children and the poverty this caused the family and triggered a new round of controversy recently amid the domestic slavery crackdown.
"Our investigation showed that no human trafficking or forced marriage was involved," the regional government said in its statement after a two-week probe.
But the case reflected "formalism and bureaucracy" in government agencies and local officials' neglect in policing marriage registration and population management, it added. Eleven officials from Rongxian either received a warning or a demerit.
The family has lived by farming, collecting government subsidies and public donations over the years.
The children have all grown up healthily and obtained legal identity documents, it said. Four of them are now employed and the rest are attending school.
In a 2018 report by the website of national newspaper Guangming Daily, a grateful Liang was quoted as saying: "I violated the family planning policy but the government hasn't given up on me ... all my family members now receive subsidies for education and low income."
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