BEIJING (Reuters) - China will crack down on penalties paid by families flouting strict family planning rules after a National Audit Office probe found $260 million in fines had been levied illegally, state media reported.
There has been growing public anger about the one-child policy, which was introduced in the late 1970s to prevent population growth spiralling out of control.
The policy covers 63 percent of China, although family planning rules have been loosened over the years to allow some couples to have a second child.
The audit office's investigation of 45 counties in nine provinces and municipalities from 2009-12 found 1.6 billion yuan ($260 million) in fines had been given out in contravention of the rules, Chinese newspapers said on Thursday.
The "social support fee" - the fine - is meant to go towards the government budget to compensate for resources and public services the child would use.
National Health and Family Planning Commission spokesman Mao Qunan said the fines are "a means to ensure the implementation of the one-child policy", according to the official Xinhua news agency.
His department is now pushing "related local family planning departments to rectify misconduct in the collection and management of such fines", the report said.
The ministry "will take effective measures to address problems uncovered from the auditing process and improve the system on the collection and management of fines", Xinhua said.
"The commission will tighten supervision and guide local family planning departments to publish information for public scrutiny," it said.
The audit office found that problems included inaccurate reports of the number of extra children parents had, fees not successfully collected and officials handing out higher fines than they should have.
However, the figure reported for the amount of fines illegally collected falls far short of the more than 16.5 billion yuan activists say provincial governments have failed to account for.
($1 = 6.1212 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)