Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province has announced that it is a must for couples to undergo health checks before they get married.
The province adopted this week a revised regulation to reiterate the importance of premarital checks for the purpose of curbing newborn defects and the spread of infectious diseases, said Jiang Xiangchun, an official with the provincial health bureau.
Heilongjiang is the first province on the Chinese mainland to resume compulsory premarital health checks, a measure which was approved by the provincial people's congress, Jiang said.
Relevant regulations stipulate that couples preparing to be married must show results of health checks to the marriage registration office to ensure they receive the proper marriage licence. Couples are also required to undergo special tests for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and leprosy before they tie the knot.
Lu Bozhi, director of the Harbin Maternity and Child Care Hospital, who is in charge of premarital check-ups, welcomed the regulation. "We have found many couples with some hereditary and infectious diseases as well as venereal diseases," he said.
Medical check-ups prior to marriage had been compulsory for almost 20 years in China, and many serious hereditary diseases and infectious diseases have been discovered this way, Guan Yuwei, the center's vice-president, was quoted as saying by China Daily.
But on October 1, 2003, the new Marriage Law came into effect, making check-ups optional for those wishing to tie the knot, and the number of couples undergoing the physical examinations plummeted nationwide.
Before October 2003, 75.79 percent of couples had medical check-ups before marriage registration in Heilongjiang Province, but the rate dropped to 4.16 percent by the end of last year. Nationally, the number of new couples attending a physical examination before marriage dropped dramatically last year. Only about one out of every 10 couples had a medical check-up.
In north China's Shanxi Province, which reported the largest number of congenital disease cases among newborn babies last year, the rate of premarital physical checks was just two percent. In some areas of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, no one had physical examination before marriage, CCTV.com reported.
The number of newborn children with congenital diseases has doubled since the procedure became voluntary, according to Li Yuan from Beijing Xuanwumen Mother and Child Care Center.
People have different attitudes toward compulsory premarital check-ups.
Chen Zhi, a young man working in Beijing, said the premarital medical check-up is "insurance" for future happiness and he is warmly welcoming the restoration of the compulsory policy.
Hao Yi, a university graduate who got married on New Year's Day this year, holds the opposite attitude. Hao said she and her husband did not have a physical check-up. "I did not trust the hospital, I think the hospital was only asking for money by doing so," she said.
Many are so confident of their health they think a check-up is unnecessary. But some who know they are infected with a particular disease and fear the truth will come out.
Yue Xuejun, an official from the State family Planning and Population Commission, said the commission is neutral with regard to the regulation introduced in Heilongjiang. But he agreed premarital physical checks should be enforced, Sina.com news reported.
In the wake of the rising number of birth defects nationwide, many regions have begun to take measures to raise awareness of the importance of premarital checks.
Health departments in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Qingdao, Nanjing, Wuhan and other Chinese cities are considering to introduce free premarital physical examinations.
(Xinhua News Agency July 23, 2005)