Young, old pains in remarrying

13:11, June 29, 2010      

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China's divorce rate is increasing every year since records began. Last year, the divorce rate rose 8.8 percent from the previous year, according to a report released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs last week. In 2009, 24.24 million people in China officially exchanged marriage vowels while 2.47 million people divorced.

Tang Jun, a social development and policy researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, quoted in China Daily, pointed to a regional survey conducted by his team, which showed extramarital affairs have become a rising cause of divorce in the country, particularly in large cities. While this may seem like an occasion for feminists in China to celebrate and a step in the right direction toward women's rights, Tang goes on to say this is because "rural women had better tolerance of extramarital affairs compared with their city counterparts."

Better tolerance of extramarital affairs? "Tolerance" is not an accurate description of the situation rural women face. Rural women are more likely to be described as voiceless and trapped. While China's marriage law grants equal rights to women in marriage and family life, often women accept emotional and physical abuse to avoid being laughed at by villagers and save the family name.

Remarrying is still against the local culture and many women who remarry feel shunned by their neighbors. Ms Ren, 58 years old from Xichong county, said she was mocked and looked down upon after her failed first marriage to a man who physically and emotionally abused her. For the sake of her children and family, and to avoid censure by fellow villagers, Ms Ren said she suffered alone until 1997 when her husband died of cancer.

In October 2007, she chose to remarry despite strong criticism from her community and was satisfied and happy. Sadly the happiness was short-lived, less than a year later; her successful marriage ended when a beam fell on her husband's neck, suffocating him in the Sichuan earthquake.

Now Ms Ren dares not to think of marrying again. She is determined to spend the rest of her life alone. The villagers' remarks scare her and her own fear of remarriage has strengthened her resolve and made her believe her life is cursed.

Besides local customs and traditions, many elderly couples also have to consider medical care concerns, pensions, property, wishes of adult children, inheritance issues, existing grandchildren responsibilities and actual living arrangements - many elderly rural Chinese live with their adult children and cannot afford to move out with a new partner.

The incomplete pension system, medical care and social services, particularly in rural areas, also inhibit elderly citizens from remarrying. The common belief is if they take a new marriage partner, their offspring will refuse to take care of them when they are sick and frail or when their new spouse dies.

Often children prevent their parents from remarrying due to concerns about inheritance. Adult children fear that if a new spouse moves into the house of their parent, they will no longer inherit the house when their parent dies.

Generally, children will find the new marriage more acceptable when they are reassured of still inheriting the property. Other concerns children have, with regards to their parents remarrying, are whether they are legally responsible for their parent's new spouse in ill health and whether they have to be responsible for the death expenses.

According to Article 10 in the Elder Rights Protection Law, introduced in 1996, the elderly shall be provided for mainly by their families and their family members shall care and look after them. Sons and daughters shall pay medical expenses for the elderly suffering illnesses and provide them nursing care.

The law also states clearly in article 18 that the freedom of the marriage of the elderly is protected by law - sons, daughters or other relatives should not interfere in their divorce, remarriage or post-remarriage life. In addition, Article 47 reinforces this, stating "whoever interferes with the freedom of marriage of the elderly by violence or refuses to provide for or support elderly, whom he has the duty to provide for or support, if the case is serious and thus constitutes a crime, shall be investigated for criminal responsibility according to the law."

Despite the law of knowledge of the law, often the pressure from their children is enough to dissuade remarriage and non-marriage cohabitation is common. Non-marriage cohabitation is neither protected nor forbidden by the law and can easily lead to property disputes and family conflict.

Source: China Daily(By Jenelle Whittaker)


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