Disadvantaged Groups Getting More Care

Zhang Haidi, wheelchair-bound for paraplegia, felt the warmth and care of the government and society at large, when she rolled on the ramps at airports and hotels en route from Jinan, capital of Shandong Province, to Beijing to attend the ongoing fourth session of the Ninth National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

As a CPPCC National Committee member, the 45-year-old woman submitted a proposal to the last session in 2000, urging related authorities to build obstacle-free facilities at airports, railway stations, bus stops and docks.

Her proposal met with positive response from the Ministry of Construction, which has since sped up building facilities for the handicapped at public sites.

Due to her popularity, Zhang perhaps is one of the luckiest among the 60-million-strong disabled people in China. However, the rest of them have also begun to feel more warmth and care since the enactment of China’s Law on Protection of the Disabled a decade ago, the first of its kind in the country.

The Chinese government is stepping up efforts to help disadvantaged groups in a move to seek long-term social stability and equality, as well as to narrow the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Traditionally, the groups often refer to the old and weak. But with land reform in rural areas and reform of state-owned enterprises in urban areas, emerging redundant farmers and laid-off workers, among others, have become new members of the disadvantaged groups.

Impoverished farmers, for example, have drawn the greatest attention from the government over the past two decades. Woman farmer Dong Shufang, who is here attending the fourth session of the Ninth National People’s Congress (NPC), expressed her feelings when she said her hometown Dingxi in northwest China’s Gansu Province, reportedly the poorest area in the country, “has basically shaken off poverty.”

Many delegates to the NPC echoed her thoughts. As a matter of fact, the beneficiaries of a nationwide anti-poverty campaign, which began concurrently with China’s reform and opening-up in 1978, would agree with Dong on that point.

Within two decades, China has reduced its population suffering from abject poverty from 250 million in the late 1970s to the current 26 million, with an average of 10 million people escaping from poverty annually, a striking contrast to the same number of people being added every year to the world’s impoverished population.

Increased funding by the government has played an important role in the effort. Official statistics show that in the early days of poverty relief, the central government earmarked 800 million yuan for the work annually. But now, yearly spending has risen to nearly 25 billion yuan.

In the past 20 years, the government has injected some 140 billion yuan of poverty eradication fund. It has also mobilized people of all walks of life, including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the armed police, in helping the impoverished in one way or another.

Sources said that the PLA and the armed police have helped lift more than 3 million people out of poverty over the past seven years.

Protection of the rights and interests of migrant laborers from rural areas, reportedly more than 80 million strong, has become a hot topic at the annual sessions of the CPPCC and the NPC. Some delegates have proposed enacting a law that would ensure prompt payment of wages to migrant laborers.

“This group of people is vulnerable to possible violations. Their wages are often delayed, skimped, or simply bilked by employers, and they have to work overtime under adverse conditions,” said Wang Huijiong, a CPPCC National Committee member and researcher at the Development Research Center of the State Council, China’s cabinet.

However, news brought by NPC deputies from eastern Zhejiang Province sounds somewhat soothing. They said that local labor supervision departments intervened last year and helped 39,000 migrant workers get back their delayed pay worth nearly 100 million yuan.

The central government is mulling possible ways to lend a hand. In his report to the NPC session, chief economic planner Zeng Peiyan vowed to guide an orderly exodus of rural laborers and employ more of them in massive state infrastructure construction projects.

And more local governments have taken measures to protect the rights and interests of migrant workers in terms of housing, working conditions, and schooling for their children.

Laid-off workers are also high on the government agenda. Further reform of state-owned enterprises and China’s expected entry into the World Trade Organization are expected to worsen the country’s employment situation.

Nevertheless, the government remains sober-minded. It has intensified efforts to set up a sound social security system and a medical insurance system, to resolve unemployment-related problems.

Official statistics show that China had 6.57 million laid-off workers at the end of 2000, of whom 95 percent could count on government cash payments that would guarantee them a basic standard of living.

Ethnic minorities have always been one of the government’s top concerns. The strategy to develop western China, for example, aims to seek an east-west balanced economic development and let local people lead a better life.

Most of the gigantic infrastructure projects set for 2001-2005 are or will be built in central and western parts of China, where the majority of the country’s 110-million-strong ethnic minorities inhabit.

The disadvantaged groups in China are receiving increasing attention from the government and the society. Newly appointed Justice Minister Zhang Fusen promised to offer free legal aid to the needy. Projects in different names, such as the private-entrepreneurs-financed Glory Project and the Hope Project, which helps children in rural areas to get schooling, are all meant for disadvantaged groups.

(People’s Daily 03/08/2001)

In This Series

NPC Deputy Cares Schooling for Girls

China to Celebrate Promulgation of Law on Disabled

Disabled in E China Province to Be Better-Off

Poverty Relief, a Long and Arduous Task in China



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