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New Family Planning Law Raises Debate Over Rights

The nation's first legislation on family planning has agitated debate over the controversial balance between men and women of the right to have a child.

All men and women have the right to have a child and they share equal responsibility in implementing family planning, according to the new Law on Family Planning and Population, which was approved by the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People's Congress (NPC) at the end of last month.

"It is the first time that men's right to have a child is clearly stipulated in a law," said Wu Changzhen, a professor of marriage and family law with China University of Politics and Law.

She said the new legislation will be able to help assuage the anger and disappointment of husbands at their wives' refusal to bear a child.

However, Xu Anqi, a Shanghai scholar, argued that Wu's interpretation of the legislation does not take certain factors into account.

"It may cause harm to women by partially emphasizing the right of men to have a child," said Xu.

"Wives who refuse to bear a child may incur unfair blame and demand for compensation," Xu said. "Even worse, it may constitute connivance in rape within marriage."

Women have the right to choose whether to bear a child, according to the law on the protection of women's rights.

Xu said special care has been taken in ensuring this right for women for good reason.

"Women's rights in childbearing have been highlighted because they often remain in a relatively weaker position in a society where traditional ideas on birth still dominate," Wu explained.

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

"But it does not give specific regulation on how to realize and protect such a right. Neither does it stipulate how to balance such a right between men and women," he said, adding that it is the business of marriage and family laws to make such provisions.

Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist with Renmin University of China, claimed the conflict between husband and wife on whether to have a child should be governed by ethics rather than law.

"It is a natural right of a human being to have a child and it can be realized unless the law forbids it," Zhou said, adding that it is not necessary for legal experts to be involved.

"The best way to solve such an issue is through equal consultation between the couple based on mutual respect," Zhou said.

(China Daily January 8, 2002)

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