China's one-child rule has numerous critics, but perhaps none have so emphatically defied the policy as a couple who have accumulated four boys and four girls - some born to two surrogate mothers.
Authorities are calculating how high a fine to impose on the family, described as “rich merchants” in the southern province of Guangdong, state media said on Friday, estimating that it could reach 10 times their annual income.
“A high fee will be imposed on the parents,” the Southern Daily reported, citing local family planning and health officials. “The investigation into the case is basically complete.”
The one-child policy was imposed three decades ago to limit growth in China's population, now the largest in the world at 1.35 billion, but critics say it is no longer needed, while there are some loopholes parents can try to exploit.
Even so the Guangdong couple's violation appeared exceptional, not only in the number of children involved but also the various gaps they sought to use.
Surrogate births are banned in China, making the five children borne by two female recruits illegal.
While the triplets born to the mother via artificial insemination were deemed legal, they were delivered in Hong Kong - a popular option for wealthy Chinese who want to secure residency there for their children and evade the mainland China quota.
“The octuplet parents are high-income, plus they had five excess children. This has an extremely negative influence and the fine amount should be correspondingly high,” the Southern Daily cited a family planning expert as saying.
The Guangming Daily newspaper estimated that, based on provincial policies, the fine could reach 10 times the couple's yearly income.
Surrogate births do take place in China but usually escape notice and thus legal punishment, said Peng Xizhe, a population expert at Fudan University in Shanghai.
“Although the law does not allow it, nobody is bringing the matter to court,” he said. “But because this is an exceptional case, it has become a legal issue.”
The children were all born within two months of each other in 2010, after the couple had difficulty conceiving, but the case first drew attention last year and was raised again at a meeting of provincial officials on Thursday. - AFP