Seven-year-old Xiao Qing's parents weren't married when she was born. Considered illegitimate by the state, she's not allowed to go to school until her mother pays a €900 fee. Not so easy when you're unemployed...

The parents of children born out of wedlock are forced to pay a hefty fine to make them "legitimate" citizens. Without this, the children can't go to school until they get their "hukou", a kind of residency permit delivered by the local authorities' family planning department. The permit comes at a cost of 9000RMB (€900) - a high price for the potential consequences of sex before marriage.

Xiao Qing's mother, unemployed and abandoned by Xiao's father, couldn't afford to pay the fine. For the past two months she appealed to every relevant authority in Zhuhai (south China) to get her daughter into school. But her plea went unheard by the family planning department, the education department, the sub-district office and the local council. So the single mother tried to catch the attention of the local media. Xiao Qing stood outside Gongbei Xiawan Primary School with a sign that read "I am a local child. I want to receive compulsory education, too!" A local journalist did take pity on the seven-year-old, but when he suggested the idea to his paper they refused it. So Han Tao posted the pictures on his blog. He managed to drum up enough support that the local authorities pledged to allow Xiao to go to school. But when she arrived for her first day, the school refused her, saying they didn't have enough places.

Blogger Han Tao's photos

Sohu blogger and journalist Han Tao highlighted Xiao's case by posting these photos on his blog. His paper refused to publish the photos.

"I've never bought my daughter a single piece of clothing"

"Ge M" is Xiao Qing's mother. She is currently unemployed.

The local authorities did give permission for Xiao to go to school after Han Tao helped us to fight with the publicity campaign. But when we went to the local school with our permit the school refused it, saying there was no place for Xiao to come in.

I don't have a job at the moment, I live alone in Zhuhai; none of my friends are able to help me and my family in Jiangxi (central China, southwest of Shanghai) doesn't want to. I go to the peasant market with Xiao and we pick up the vegetables people have thrown away on the floor. We survive on 10 to 20 RMB (€1 - €2) a week. I've never bought my daughter a single piece of clothing, not even a sock. All of her clothes are handouts or gifts.

Before all this happened I managed a small shop in Zhuhai. At that time I saved up and borrowed some money from my family to buy a little house. But then I was badly beaten and raped by a group of men in the shop. The attack left the tendons in my hands permanently damaged because I tried to protect myself. After that I was too scared to keep a shop, and so I left. But now I'm in serious debt for the house. There's just no way for me to pay the hukou.

Because we can only have one child in China I waited a long time to find the right man. I gave birth to Xiao when I was 34. But her father was not the right man. I haven't seen him for seven years, I don't know where he is and I don't even care.

A year after Xiao was born I received a notice in the post for a 50,000 RMB (€5000) fine for having an illegitimate child. There's no way I could pay it so I just threw it away and ran back to my hometown."