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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 14:20 GMT
Chinese man sues wife over abortion
Women beside contraception campaign poster
Spouses now have equal rights to choose contraception
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By Vickie Maximova
BBC Monitoring
line

The first lawsuit under China's controversial family planning law has been filed at a Beijing court, China Daily reports.

The plaintiff, a 35-year-old man identified as Mr Li, accused his wife Ms He, 27, of infringing his right to have a child by opting for an abortion. The court has refused to reveal the full names of the couple to protect their privacy.


Wives who refuse to bear a child may incur unfair blame and demands for compensation

Critic of new law

This is the first time a man has sued his wife over his right to be a father since China's parliament, the National People's Congress, approved the family planning law, ruling that a woman had no overriding priority over her spouse in deciding whether to have a child.

The plaintiff told the court that by opting for an abortion his wife of 18 months had violated his right to be a father.

He said he had been enraged when Ms He, who became pregnant in November last year, had informed him she had chosen to abort the baby despite his strong opposition.

The court has officially recommended the case to go to trial but refused to release any further detail before the announcement of the verdict.

Controversy

China's family planning legislation has been causing controversy in the media ever since it was passed by parliament last December.

The most controversial provision is that the law now puts a man's right to have a child on an equal footing with the right of his wife, making both spouses within the marriage equally responsible for family planning.

The law also states that both spouses are equally entitled to choose when they want to have their child and what contraceptive they want to use.

The law's opponents say the provisions dealing with fatherhood rights have not been thought through properly and need further revision.

In its current form, they say, the law clashes with some of China's other laws, including the one protecting a woman's right to have an abortion.

Another group of opponents demand further revision, saying the law as it stands may be construed as condoning rape within marriage.

One Shanghai scholar told China Daily that the law "may cause harm to women by partially emphasizing the right of men to have a child".

"It may constitute connivance in rape within marriage," he said. "Wives who refuse to bear a child may incur unfair blame and demands for compensation."

Birth control

The family planning law provides a legal defence for China's current birth-control policy, which has often been denounced in the past by human rights organisations for using forced abortions and sterilisations, as well as leading to the abandonment of baby girls.

China's health experts and family planning workers have recently been concerned that the lion's share of responsibility for contraception lies with a woman in China.

They have been calling on Chinese men to take more responsibility for family planning.

According to the statistics released by the national State Family Planning Commission this week, among the Chinese couples using contraception, only 2.1% use condoms while 38% opt for female sterilization and some 46% use intrauterine devices.

The legislation stipulates, among other things, that urban couples should generally have only one child. Violators face fines.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

09 Jan 02 | Media reports
Concern at Chinese family planning law
10 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
China rethinks marriage law
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