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Hot Topic on Campus: Should Students Have the Right to Marry?

Do students have the right to get married whilst still at college? Is it a good or bad idea to permit them to get married at this stage?

Much debate on this issue has been the talk of the town on college campuses. The result? Colleges can make their own decision on whether to give the green light to student couples who want to marry, according to Qu Zhenyuan, an official from the Ministry of Education.

In the past and even in some cases now, college students are forbidden from getting married. The legal age at which students can tie the knot is 22 for men and 20 for women. However, undergraduates who decide to get married must quit from their colleges before doing so.

Undeniable rights

The current management provision was issued in 1990 by the then State Education Commission and has been strictly carried out by all Chinese colleges.

College students are told on their first day that marriage is utterly prohibited, although few had thought about it before anyway.

However, when the Ministry of Education dropped the limit of age and marital status for students to sit college entrance examination, problems appeared - if grandparents and parents could study in college, then why couldn't college students get married?

Legal professionals complain that the current rule takes away the right to marry at the legal age, which must be protected.

They argue that the 1980 Marriage Law and its newly-passed revision stipulates that no organization or individual is allowed to interfere in people's right to marry.

"College students of legal marriageable age have the right to take their college to court if their legal rights are inappropriately forbidden," said He Weifang, professor at the Law School of Peking University. "The colleges will undoubtedly be the losers," he said, adding that "citizens' rights cannot be denied and that there are no exceptions for college students."

Disturbance on campus?

Legal rights cannot be denied but potential problems cannot be ignored, either.

Yang Deguang, principal of Shanghai Normal University, argued the current management rule enacted in colleges does not really conflict with the rights of students.

Although some university students are old enough to request a marriage application, most of them are unprepared psychologically and are not secure enough financially to begin a family, Yang believes.

"Marriage and childbearing are distractions and disturb the normal order of school," said Tian Lin, professor at the research centre of higher education at Peking University. "Nowadays colleges are totally unprepared for managing a large number of student's families."

Until now, Wuhan University has been the only one that publicly approves marriage on campus.

Hao Xiang, who is in charge of students' affairs at Wuhan University, said the rules were changed because the limit of age and marriage status for people studying at college were dropped.

"If more and more single, older people enter our school, problems will begin sooner or later," he said. "We have to make our rules fit the coming new situations."

"But this does not mean that we are encouraging our students to get married," Hao added.

He said only 5 per cent of graduate students in the university have got married and most younger undergraduates have their own rational considerations which will not be influenced by the new rule.

Most universities stick to their traditional rules - no marriage on campus.

"We do not encourage undergraduates to get married at any time," said Sun Li, president of the students' management department at Peking University.

"Marriage is too big a decision," she said. "No application from undergraduates students have been turned in yet. I believe the majority of students would not risk it without careful thought," she added.

Parents worried

Perhaps the most worried people involved in the debate are parents who have placed great hopes on their children's future.

Fang Guoqing, a father of a college student, firmly supports the schools' restriction.

He believes that college is a place only for study, and that "the prime responsibility for school is to encourage students to study."

"I cannot imagine how my son would concentrate on his studies if he has a wife and a family at such a young age," Fang added.

Zhang Shuyan, a mother of a college student hopes her daughter and other students can all treasure the precious time in college and use the time to absorb as much knowledge as they can when they are still young.

"I do not deny that marriage is their right," she said. "But if they ask me, I will persuade them to wait. I believe that more sweet fruits await them in the future."

Many parents are also worried that getting married at such a young age could lead to many more divorces.

Students remain sane

Most college and university students responded calmly to the debate on marriage.

Guo Tong from the Guanghua School of Management of Peking University, said students' rights with regards to marriage should be protected in line with the law, but he is not considering marriage himself whilst at college, largely because of the pressure from his studies and his worries about finding a job after graduation.

"I could not risk my girlfriend's future if my own future remains uncertain," he said.

A survey conducted in Wuhan, capital city of Central China's Hubei Province where Wuhan University is based, revealed that half of the city's college students would prefer to wait for at least five years after graduation; less than one-third of students questioned said they would marry within three to five years after leaving college. Most of them do not want to sacrifice what they consider to be a golden time for gaining knowledge.

"There have been no students at my university applying to get married, although 40 per cent of the students are old enough to be eligible," said Jia Shuiku, director of the Students' Affairs Office at the University of Science and Technology of Beijing.

Zhu Xiao, a student at the University of International Business and Economics has been dating his girlfriend for two years and they have touched on the topic of marriage. "We won't get married until after graduation," Zhu said. "If we want to have a happy life in the future, we need to study hard together."

The debate on the rights of college students to get married is just one problem that China has to face in its gradual reform of higher education, said Tian Lin, professor from Peking University.

It appears that even if restrictions on marriage at school were abandoned, it is unlikely that marriages on campus would increase. But we still need to prepare for potential problems, she said.

(China Daily January 9, 2002)

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