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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 23:40 GMT
Concern at Chinese family planning law
New law comes into force in September
The new law heralds a new era in family planning
China's new family planning law has caused controversy among the nation's legal experts.

The new law puts a man's right to have a child on an equal footing with the right of his wife, Beijing's China Daily reports.

The National People's Congress (NPC), China's legislative body, last month passed one of China's most controversial laws giving all men and women the right to have a child.

Under the new law, both spouses within the marriage are equally responsible for family planning.

Opponents

According to the paper, opponents of the new law claim that it may be seen as condoning rape within marriage.


It may constitute connivance in rape within marriage...Wives who refuse to bear a child may incur unfair blame

Shanghai scholar Xu Anqi
One Shanghai scholar, Xu Anqi, told the paper 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," Xu said. "Wives who refuse to bear a child may incur unfair blame and demand for compensation."

Others say the law should not interfere in the relationship between husband and wife.

Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist with Renmin University of China, told the China Daily that a conflict between man and wife on whether to have a child should be regulated by ethics rather than by law.

"How this problem can be best solved is through consultation between man and wife, where mutual respect reigns supreme," Zhou said, adding that no legal experts should be involved in the matter.

Official explanation

Advocates of the law disagree.

"The stipulation of the law on family planning and population intends to protect a citizen's right to have a child in the process of family planning," an official with the Legal Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, who refused to be identified, told the paper.

"The law does not attempt to regulate how such a right can be exercised and protected. Nor does it stipulate how to balance this right between men and women," the official said.

It is up to the spouses to make such provisions, he added.

A law lecturer with the China University of Politics and Law, Wu Changzhen, praised the new family planning legislation.


It will be able to help assuage the anger and disappointment of husbands at their wives' refusal to bear a child

Law lecturer Wu Changzhen
"It is the first time that men's right to have a child is clearly stipulated in a law," she said, according to the China Daily.

"It will be able to help assuage the anger and disappointment of husbands at their wives' refusal to bear a child," she said.

Background

The controversial law will come into force in September.

Analysts say it provides a legal defence for China's current birth-control policy, often denounced in the past by human rights organisations for using forced abortions and sterilisations, as well as leading to the abandonment of baby girls.

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

Local authorities will be responsible for making sure the law is observed.

The Chinese government maintains that the law neither relaxes nor tightens the current policy, but seeks to stabilize it.

Zhang Weiqing, director of the State Family Planning Commission, told the press that as the country's population continued to grow by an average of 10 million annually, the law would be maintained as a long-term basic national policy.

China says the one-child policy has been responsible for preventing 300 million births in the past 20 years and is essential to avoiding a population explosion and starvation.

China's birth policy began 20 years ago as an "open letter" issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

Its most recent census reported a population of 1.265 billion, still the largest in the world. But the growth rate fell sharply during the decade, which saw an annual population growth rate of 1.07 per cent - 0.4 percentage points lower than during the 1980s.

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.

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