Legislators in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province have decided to "restore" the traditional practice of compulsory premarital physical check-ups, giving rise to a heated debate, according to the Beijing Daily Messenger on July 25.
Some say that restoring the practice is regressive.
And there are doubts that the old practice will have any effect. The provincial civil affairs department in Heilongjiang has pledged not to enforce the system because the newly revised Heilongjiang Regulations governing the Health Protection of Mothers and Children runs counter to the Managerial Regulations on Marriage Registration.
In the past, a premarital health check-up was a prerequisite to obtaining a marriage permit in China.
The newly revised regulations stipulate that all men and women must undergo compulsory AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea and leprosy tests before marriage.
Examinations for other diseases are optional.
Since the Managerial Regulations on Marriage Registration were published on October 1, 2003, the rate of pre-marital physical check-ups plummeted. It was less than 10 percent nationwide in 2004, and as low as one percent in some places.
One of the arguments in favor of the reimposition of mandatory check-ups include this example: A district health center for women and children discovered three cases of syphilis in fetuses in the first five months of implementation of a voluntary health check-up system.
The provincial health department distributed the Heilongjiang Regulations governing the Health of Mothers and Children to its grass-roots departments on July 20.
However, Li Ying, from Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang, was quoted as saying that the personal health of people who plan to get married varies. Those who have little education are not willing to have premarital physical check-ups. The compulsory check-up will help to raise the rate of pre-marital physical examinations.
Chi Guo, another Harbin resident, was quoted as saying that it would be a violation of privacy if compulsory physical examinations were imposed.
He said that if the check-up were a free public service, the take-up rate would be much higher.
Wei Guangfu, a researcher with the Civil Affairs Bureau of Heilongjiang, was reported as saying that his department was not aware of the revision of the regulations which do not include the opinions and suggestions from the department, so the feasibility of the regulations is still open to question.
He said that calling off the compulsory check-ups was progressive, and that their restoration will leave people an impression of "system regression."
In Beijing, the local health bureau said that the number of people who registered with the civil affairs department for marriage permits and who had had premarital health checks dropped drastically in 2004, but the incidence of genital diseases and birth defects went up sharply.
The number of birth defects reached 13.49 per thousand in Beijing in 2004, higher than the normal ratio of 10 to a thousand.
(Xinhua News Agency July 26, 2005)