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Monday, July 10, 2000, updated at 10:34(GMT+8)

China Plans to Amend Marriage Law

China aims to amend its 20-year-old Marriage Law, to deal with newly-arising social problems such as bigamy, concubinage, domestic violence and shirking the responsibility of taking care of the elderly.

Hu Kangsheng, deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission under the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, said that research on the law amendment is now under way, involving officials and experts from women's federations, civil affairs departments and courts.

Hu gave an explanation of the various aspects of this job during the amendment work at a workshop in Beijing Saturday attended by Li Peng, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, and other committee members.

Although the experts agreed to persist in the principles of freedom of marriage, monogamy and gender equality, and the prohibition of domestic violence, spouse abuse and abandonment, they differed on how to decide the criteria for divorce and whether to introduce a system to compensate one side in a divorce case, as well as on laying the blame in divorce cases, Hu said.

While about nine million couples tie the nuptial knot each year in China, some 450,000 couples get divorced according to mutual agreement, and about 700,000 couples end their marriage relations through court verdict or mediation.

Hu pointed out that China's monogamy system has been under challenge as a result of the increasing phenomenon of bigamy, concubinage, illegal cohabitation and ex-marital affairs.

In some prosperous provinces such as south China's Guangdong, the phenomenon of "bao er nai," or taking a concubine, is on the rise as some overseas businessmen, heads of enterprises, company managers, private businessmen, and even the Communist Party and government officials keep mistresses, Hu said.

"Such social evils not only go against socialist ethics, but also corrupt social values and cause family breakups, murders and suicides due to love affairs, thus threatening social stability and the policy of family planning," Hu said.

Some experts have suggested stipulating the rights of spouses in the law amendment, while some others insist that mutual responsibility for faithfulness and cohabitation be written in the law.

Although the current marriage law includes an article against domestic violence, statistics show that violence occurs in 30 percent of Chinese families, Hu said.

All the experts agreed that domestic violence must be punished. However, they have different ideas about how to judge violent behavior.

Arguments have also been prompted on how the amended law would define the criteria for permitting divorce, Hu said.

Some experts insisted that the current criteria, which focus on the breakdown of mutual affection, should be changed into the breakdown of nuptial relations since it is hard for the court to measure the degree of affection. others worry that the criteria for divorce might be softened.

Experts also expressed their concern about juvenile crime caused by divorce, quoting statistics as saying that more than 40 percent of young people in divorced families commit crimes. Also, cases of abusing elderly people and shirking the responsibility to take care of them are on rise in China.

Li Peng said that the NPC Standing Committee has decided to discuss the amendment to Marriage Law this year, because the stability of marriage and the family is a key factor in overall social stability and social progress.

The draft amendment will be published nationwide at the proper time, for the lawmakers to study and consider opinions from all walks of life, he added.

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China aims to amend its 20-year-old Marriage Law, to deal with newly-arising social problems such as bigamy, concubinage, domestic violence and shirking the responsibility of taking care of the elderly.

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