Men's rights in family planning are for the first time clearly stipulated in China's Population and Family Planning Law which came into effect Sunday.
The law was adopted late last year at the 25th session of the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People's Congress.
The new law stipulates that all citizens, regardless of gender, have a right to have children of their own. Both men and women are responsible for birth control and men will get legal support if their partners have abortions without their consent.
The Law on Protection of Women's Rights, already in place for years, says women in China are entitled to the right to have children in accordance with state regulations and also have the right not to have children.
But men's right to have children was not clearly defined. So when disputes on the rights of reproduction came to courts, only the Marriage Law and Civil Affairs Law were relevant.
"Chinese laws have never stripped men of their right to reproduction," said Xu Anqi, an associate researcher with Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, who explained that the emphasis of women's right to reproduction in law in the past was made in a bid to protect women.
Sun Xiaoying, associate researcher with Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional Academy of Social Sciences, admitted women shouldered more responsibility and risks than men in reproduction, including pregnancy, giving birth and breast feeding, which can not be borne by men, but the past practice of entrusting wives with the right to decide reproduction to some extent harmed men's interests.
Zeng Qianghua, an official with the family planning committee of Guangxi, said reproduction was a shared responsibility, so major issues such as whether to have a child and whether to have an abortion should be decided by both partners.
However, a woman surnamed Liu insisted reproduction was a private matter, to be decided according to a couple's circumstances, so consensus could not always be achieved.
"If husband and wife have not reached a consensus over reproduction, then the wife's action to have an abortion on her own would not constitute an infringement on the rights of her husband," said Liu.
With women's increasing independence and changing concepts of parenthood, more Chinese women are choosing not to have children.
Statistics show 10 percent of eligible men and women have chosen not to have children in the Chinese capital, Beijing, and 600,000 families in the cities of Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai are dinkies -- double income, no kids couples.
Song Jianping, a lawyer, believes there is always the possibility that one partner of a dinky couple changes his or her mind and wants a child, which might eventually land them in a reproductive dispute.
China, with a population of 1.3 billion, is now among the countries with the lowest birth rates in the world.
(Xinhua News Agency September 1, 2002)