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Privacy Key in Marriage Rule Revision

China is on track to update marriage regulation following the revision of the long-debated Marriage Law last month.

The change in the regulation will give more privacy to individuals in divorces, an area of growing concern across the country.

The revisions are a result of complaints from the public on several points.

For example, they do not like the fact that a signature from their employer is needed if a couple are trying to divorce out of court, experts said.

Couples who want to break up in China have two choices as to how they go about it. They can go to the civil affairs offices to end the relationship, or go to the courts.

However, Chinese people prefer breaking the knot within the civil affairs departments because the procedure is quicker and cheaper than going to court. On top of that, Chinese people regard legal action in court as a humiliating act as they are bound by the tradition that such "ugly things" from family life should be kept at home.

Wang Hongli, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs in charge of marriage affairs, said Tuesday that the first draft of the revised regulations has been completed.

"A public hearing gathering marriage and legal experts and people from all walks of lives will be held soon to discuss more updates," said Wang.

If everything goes well, the revisions will be sent to the State Council, for deliberation and approval later this year, said Wang. But she didn't reveal the exact timetable.

The Regulation on Marriage Management, which came into force in China in the 1980s, was set up to become a "right hand man" to the Marriage Law, to make sure matters related to marriage and divorces are within the legal framework and to put a stop to illegal activities.

However, the regulation has become increasingly unpopular as many of its clauses and requirements have proved to be out of tune with the rapid changes in China, experts said.

The requirement of showing the signature of employers has often discouraged a couple from getting divorced as they fear they will become a laughing stock or be the subject of gossip.

Yue Cheng, a distinguished attorney in China specializing in divorce cases, sympathizes. He said: "The practice not only violates privacy but technically is difficult to carry out."

The requirement came about 17 years ago in an attempt to crack down on "fake" divorce as many couples pretend to break up for the sake of getting a house and other subsidies from the state, but in fact did not really want to divorce.

The policy proved effective in the 1980s as state-owned firms were the dominant business function in China, offering cradle-to-grave welfare for their employees, giving firms a big role in deciding such individual matters as marriage, housing and health care.

"But with China's deepening industrial reform which makes state-owned businesses real businesses and not just administrative organs, Chinese people are no longer bound by their firms," said Xu Anqi, a marriage expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily 05/22/2001)

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