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Public Opinion Helps Make Better Laws

The unprecedented fervor seen in an open debate over draft amendments to the current Marriage Law mirrors the enhanced legal awareness of the Chinese public, according to a senior legislative official.

"It seems to me that people, in both urban and rural areas, no longer view the law as a matter only for government departments or legal professors to discuss,'' said Wang Shengming, director of the civil legislation office with the Legal Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, China's top legislative body.

"Ordinary people are playing an increasingly active role in revising laws because they now realize what a large stake they have in them,'' he added.

Wang based his judgment on the warm response his commission received following a call for public opinion on draft amendments to the Marriage Law.

Subjects like bigamy, freedom to divorce, the allocation of family properties and domestic violence have all triggered heated debates since legislators decided to revise the Marriage Law in 1995.

Senior legislators released the Draft Amendments for nationwide, public comment and scrutiny on January 11.

Wang's commission, responsible for collecting views on the draft amendments, had received 3,829 separate comments from the public by February 28, the deadline for the submission of proposals on the revision of the law.

The public views submitted to the NPC touch on various aspects of the Amendments -- from the title itself to possible marital problems that could result from artificial insemination.

Contributors emerged from almost all walks of life, including college students, soldiers, farmers, civil servants, judges and retired people, their ages ranging from 13 to 90.

"I have never seen a revision of a law attract as much attention as the amendment to the Marriage Law did,'' Wang said.

"Everyone wanted his or her voice heard because the stipulations of the law are closely linked to everyday life,'' he added.

The Draft Amendments do not only handle issues of marriage, as its title suggests, but also touch on many rights and obligations of family life.

The Draft Amendments were first reviewed by senior legislators in October of last year.

To encourage a more comprehensive debate, lawmakers organized a plenary meeting to discuss the Draft Amendments last December, during their second round of deliberation.

The 21st session of the NPC Standing Committee, to be held at the end of this month, is expected to vote on the Draft Amendments to the Marriage Law.

Wang's commission is now busy sorting out the public views to work out a new draft for the senior legislators to review in their third round of deliberations.

Draft laws or amendments to laws are usually passed by legislators after three readings, according to the Law on Legislative Procedure.

(China Daily 04/17/2001)

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