Shanghai single mother denied maternity benefits for being unmarried, starts lawsuit

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Editor’s Note

This is an abridged translation of an article by 新京报 (Beijing News) on a young mother from Shanghai who found she was unable to apply for maternity benefits because she was unmarried. She is now using legal means to try and secure her right to receive the benefits, hoping to set a precedent for other unmarried mothers. You can find the original article in full here. We translated parts of an interview with the woman in question which was appended to the original article.


On August 28th, unmarried mother Zhang Meng (pseudonym) from Shanghai received a piece of good news – the Shanghai Supreme People’s Court had accepted the application for a retrial of her maternity insurance dispute.

In the winter of 2017, Zhang Meng initiated a lawsuit which has been referred to as “the first case in China of an unmarried parent claiming maternity insurance”. But after nearly two years, the lawsuit has repeatedly been unsuccessful. The news from the Shanghai Higher People’s Court has now rekindled Zhang Meng’s hopes.

Maternity insurance is a system that guarantees citizens can legally obtain material assistance from the state and society after childbirth. After women give birth, they can apply for maternity insurance benefits to the social security department, making up for the wage income lost during the maternity leave period, and also enjoy medical treatment.

The Measures for the Review of Shanghai’s Application for Family Planning for Maternity Insurance Benefits stipulates that maternity insurance applicants are required to provide proof of family planning status, and in order to apply for proof of family planning, the applicant must submit the so-called “certificate of marital status of both spouses”.

It was this rule that got in Zhang Meng’s way. In 2016, she unexpectedly got pregnant. At that time she had just broken up with her boyfriend, but with the support of her family, she decided to give birth to a child.

According to the comprehensive court verdict, in July 2017 Zhang Meng applied for the “Certificate of Family Planning” at the Jinyang Street Office, Pudong District, Shanghai. However, due to the failure to provide the spouse’s identity information and marriage certificate, the office would not accept the request. On January 23, 2018, the single mother applied to the Shanghai Social Insurance Management Center for maternity insurance benefits. However, since there was no “Certificate of Family Planning” and it was made clear that this could not be provided, the center informed Zhang Meng that the application could not be processed.

The second-instance judgment of the Shanghai No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court states that according to the relevant laws, only women who give birth within the family planning rules have the right to apply for maternity living allowance and maternity medical expenses subsidies, and the application must be provided by the population and family planning management department. The Social Insurance Management Center decision that Zhang Meng did not meet the application requirements was thus not improper.

In July this year, she filed a retrial application with the Shanghai Higher People’s Court. Zhang Meng and her lawyer insist that unmarried mothers are also entitled to maternity insurance benefits. Over the two years that this lawsuit has been ongoing, her son has already started learning to speak. For Zhang Meng, this is not just a personal battle. Although she is not too optimistic about the results of the retrial, if it can arouse public concern about the rights of unmarried mothers to some extent this would already be a victory.



The Beijing News: What was your feeling when you received the notice of retrial acceptance?

Zhang Meng: The retrial acceptance is not the same as the court filing. If you do not have enough basis, the court can still refuse to accept it. Originally we estimated that the probability of acceptance was of only ten to twenty percent, so I was very happy at the time.

Beijing News: Did you know that you could not receive maternity insurance before giving birth?

Zhang Meng: I was already checking the policy during pregnancy, including through calls and emails. The answer was that unmarried mothers can’t apply for maternity insurance. But at first I didn’t give up. Only when I officially applied did I realize that I really couldn’t do it.

Beijing News: What effect does it have on an unmarried mother to know that she is unable to apply for maternity insurance?

Zhang Meng: Maternity insurance is mainly to make up for the loss of wages during maternity leave. I took a five-month maternity leave and could get tens of thousands in allowances when you combine my salary and other factors. I don’t really need this money, but there are many other younger mothers who are in great need of it. I have learned that in order to make ends meet some unmarried mothers will even look for a job in late pregnancy, when they have trouble moving about. For them, maternity insurance may be the only source of income during recovery and breastfeeding after birth.

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