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Rich Chinese Couple's Octuplets Spark Anger, Inquiry

A rich Chinese couple who had eight babies with the help of two surrogate mothers has been forced to move out of their villa following a public uproar, and could face a large fine for breaching strict family planning laws mandating only one child.

The couple in the booming southern metropolis of Guangzhou had the children last year, but the story only came to light after media discovered a picture of the babies -- four boys and four girls -- taken by a photography studio.

The couple turned to in vitro fertilization after years of trying to have children and spent nearly one million yuan ($157,800) on the procedure, state television CCTV reported this week.

The mother had three of the children herself, and the other five with two surrogates, though the couple had not intended to have so many.

After the babies were born last September and October, the couple hired 11 people, including eight baby sitters and a teacher, to take care of them, state television cited neighbors as saying.

The provincial government has set up a team to investigate the case, media added, especially as most people in China are only allowed to have one child.

"Why did they have to hire so many people to have babies for them? Did they think they had the right to bear children just because they were rich? This was their first mistake," Liao Xinbo, Guangdong's deputy health chief, told CCTV.

"Secondly, what respect to life did they show? Multiple pregnancies are super risky."

A family-planning official added that the couple may face a big fine for breaching the one-child policy.

However, some Chinese media have suggested that the couple may not have done the procedures in China, and that the children could have been born in Hong Kong, in which case they would escape punishment in the mainland.

The issue has triggered heated debate on China's Twitter-like microblogs.

"I don't understand why such law-breakers can still be left alone. Because they are rich, they can have as many babies as they like? That would create chaos!" wrote "Lingning" on Sina's Weibo.

"The case shows the worsening wealth gap in China. The rich, with their money in hand, are shattering social equality," added "A Late 2011."

However, some expressed a degree of sympathy and even envy.

"When I am rich enough, I will have two or three babies," wrote "Sha Guola."

China introduced its one-child policy in 1979 to limit births in the world's most populous nation. It has relaxed the rules somewhat in the past few years and some couples are now allowed to have a second child.