China has vowed to link family issues with the national development agenda and UN Millennium Development Goals to ensure sustainable and coordinated growth.
Gu Xiulian, vice-chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, made the remarks at the four-day World Family Summit which began on Monday in Sanya, Hainan Province.
The country's social security system is under pressure from many changes in family structure, especially the rapid transformation from extended to nuclear families, said Gu.
Other changes include an increase in poor urban families and an unbalanced sex ratio at birth.
Last year, nearly 22 million urban people, mainly women and children, had low-income levels, according to the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC).
"The status of women in both the family and society needs to be further improved," noted Gu.
She said the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Benefits, currently being amended, will give more comprehensive consideration to women's rights and include provisions against family violence, for example.
Gu also called for further efforts to improve reproductive health services for adolescents, migrants and marginalized groups.
"We are facing pressing challenges in curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS and reducing unwanted pregnancies, especially unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions among adolescents," she said.
Experts echoed that there is strong evidence showing family units are becoming another important medium of HIV transmission.
"Almost half of people with HIV in China are women, many of whom were infected by their husbands and transmit the virus to their children," said Jing Jun, professor with Tsinghua University.
"It is not that easy to prevent HIV transmission between a couple if one party has multiple unprotected sexual relations."
Khalid Malik, UN resident coordinator in China, added that the movement of migrants within the country is unprecedented in global history and has huge implications for the families affected.
"It is estimated that there are around 120 to 140 million rural migrants across the country - which means about 24 to 28 million immediate families could be affected by migration (based on 5 members per family), not even counting extended families," said Malik.
With regards to future family structures in China, Gu said smaller families may be one of the leading trends.
NPFPC Vice-Minister Zhao Baige gave an account of four upcoming changes in Chinese family issues.
First, due to the effect of globalization in terms of economy and information technology, greater attention will be paid to their impact on family growth, she said.
Second, women will play a more important role in families as they are empowered with more say in economic and social issues.
In addition, gender equality will be better emphasized in family development, she said. And a wider participation of males in family affairs will be encouraged.
Last, further light will be shed upon a coordinated relationship between economic and social growth and family development.
"It should be remembered that every member of a family is endowed to benefit from social development, including elders and children," noted Zhao.
Aware of new kinds of families such as those with one parent or same sex couples, Zhao emphasized that the government will continue to promote the leading role of mainstream culture in the society, while showing more tolerance to other family forms.
The summit, held between December 6 and 9, has attracted more than 300 participants from 48 countries.
It aims to pass a Sanya Declaration and urged the UN to integrate a family perspective into its fifth anniversary review of its Millennium Development Goals.
A wide range of topics linking family issues with UN goals, such as sustainable development, poverty eradication, education, HIV/AIDS prevention and reproductive and maternal health, are to be discussed.
(China Daily December 7, 2004)