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Drastic Overhaul Planned for Current Marriage Law

The long-anticipated and repeatedly debated draft amendments to the country's 20-year-old marriage law was presented Monday to China's national legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC).

The bill, drafted by a subcommittee of the legislature, plans to overhaul existing provisions, ranging from cracking down on bigamy and domestic violence to establishing new rules to protect the interests of women and children.

Hu Kangsheng, one of the authors of the draft amendments and deputy-director of the NPC Standing Committee's legislative work committee, explained the bill to lawmakers attending the new legislative session starting today.

However, the draft does not contain a provision on de facto bigamy. This does not mean that the law is not going to address this problem and let the dissolute go without being punished, the legislative body "still needs time discuss with the Supreme Court and other legal experts on producing detailed criteria to determine who committed bigamy de facto," Hu said.

The existing law says that a person who is married but lives with another person "in the name of husband and wife" are bigamists. But many people with "concubines" would never admit their illicit affairs are in the name of husband and wife.

"We need to study with other departments to tighten up this legal loophole," Hu told legislators.

To make its stance clear against people having a "concubine" and the increasing number of extramarital affairs, the draft amendments proposed that "husband and wife should be faithful to each other and assist each other," and the faulted side, referring to those with a person who is having an affair or who may be an abusing spouse, is liable to compensate the innocent side in a divorce settlement.

"To enshrine the statutory principle of privilege women and children in the existing marriage law and in light of that fact that many divorces are the result of bigamy and abuse," Hu said, the amendments proposed a compensation system to entitle the innocent side to the right of getting compensation from the side that is at fault in a divorce settlement.

The draft law also said that if one side has offered too much during their marriage to care for the young and old and done much to help the other side to do his or her job better, she or he may ask for compensation, too.

In terms of divorce, both the existing law and the new amendments stipulates that men and women may divorce out of willingness, but if one side does not have a settlement plan or refuses to separate, the court shall decide whether their "mutual affection" no longer exists. If so, the court shall grant the divorce after mediations failed.

The difference is that the draft amendments proposed seven instances on how to decide if their mutual affection for each other has died, which include: living separately for two or more years because of inharmonious feelings, one side committed bigamy or being unfaithful toward the other; one side addicted to gambling or drugs; one side abusing or not taking care of family members.

Other important revisions and additions also include:

-- Police and prosecutors shall investigate and prosecute the crime of bigamy and victims may also choose to file a lawsuit in court;

-- Domestic violence, abuse and abandoning family members shall be banned; victims may seek help from police in case of domestic violence;

-- The word "leper" were deleted from the diseases not suitable for marriage, because leprosy has been virtually wiped out in China, and the disease is curable and preventable today.

-- Grandchildren shall be obligated to support their grandparents whose children have died or are not capable of supporting them.

The draft amendments also propose a detailed set of regulations on family property and made an addition of one chapter on legal consequences for breaking the law.

The meeting of chairman and vice-chairmen of the NPC Standing Committee said in its bill to the legislature that the revisions have been proposed "to improve the marriage and family system of China, guarantee citizens' rights and interest in aspects of marriage and family, maintain equal, harmonious and civilized marriage and family relations and to advance social civilization and progress."

Despite the tremendous alterations, the fundamental principles of the existing marriage law of freedom of marriage, monogamy and gender equality will remain unchanged, because they have been proven legitimate in the past, author of the draft Hu Kangsheng told lawmakers.

The People's Republic of China promulgated its first marriage law in 1950 which revolutionized the ancient feudal marriage system. The existing law was adopted in 1980 to add the principle of family planning.

(People's Daily 10/24/2000)

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