BEIJING — Nineteen province-level governments in China last year collected a total of $2.7 billion in fines from parents who had violated family-planning laws, which usually limit couples to one child, a lawyer said Thursday.

The lawyer, Wu Youshui, of Zhejiang province, sent letters in July to 31 provincial governments asking officials to disclose how much they had collected in 2012 in family-planning fines, referred to as “social-support fees.” He said he suspected the fines were a substantial source of revenue for governments in poor parts of China.

“We want to shed light on how the current family-planning policy works,” Wu said in a telephone interview. “Many are debating reform of the family-planning policy. Learning how it works may help with that debate.”

Wu’s findings were published Thursday by Beijing News. Wu opposes China’s one-child policy and has written on his microblog that he is a Christian.

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Last year, some prominent scholars and policy advisers started a major effort to push central officials to change or repeal a law that punishes families for having more than one child. That push comes as economists have been noting that China’s economic growth rate is likely to slow because its pool of cheap, young workers is dwindling as the population ages.

The family-planning regulations are prone to abuse because local officials are often evaluated by their superiors based on how well they keep down the population of their areas. There have been well-known cases of forced abortions or sterilizations across China.

Parents have also accused local family-planning officials of abducting babies who are considered “extra” children in a household and selling them to orphanages, sometimes for $3,000 per baby. The children can end up in foreign countries after being adopted by unsuspecting parents.

The Beijing News report Thursday said Wu had obtained data that showed Jiangxi province had collected the most in fines of the 19 provinces that replied to him; it had amassed 3.39 billion renminbi, or $554 million, in 2012. Sichuan province was second with 2.45 billion renminbi, or about $400 million and Fujian province was third with 2.08 billion renminbi, or about $340 million.

The provinces that had collected the least were Qinghai, with 3.5 million renminbi, about $572,000 and Ningxia, with 12.5 million renminbi, or about $2 million. Both have low populations compared to most other provinces, and they are home to many rural residents, who have more leeway in the number of children they can have without incurring fines.

Wu said
the fee should be abolished altogether, and “it should be the family’s decision how many children to have.”