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Hukou System Set for Change
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China's hukou, or household registration system is to be gradually reformed. New policies are under study allowing freer migration between cities and rural areas, the Ministry of Public Security said.

Sources with the ministry confirmed that "legal and fixed residences" will become a fundamental condition to empower citizens to change their household registration.

The sources said in the household registration reform proposal to the State Council, it will make it easier for married couples from different places to change their registered residence, Beijing Evening News reported yesterday.

Elderly people who have moved in with their children will also be allowed to change their registered residency, according to the proposal.

Gradually the country will abolish the two-tier system, which divides the population into urban and rural residents, the proposal said.

China's hukou system was set up in 1958, mainly to control population migration, largely from rural to urban areas.

Under the current system rural dwellers have little opportunity to change their registered residence regardless of how long they may have lived or worked in a city.

The estimated 120 million plus rural residents working in the cities suffer many restrictions regarding access to public services such as education, medical care, housing and employment.

Yu Lingyun, a professor with the Law School of Tsinghua University, said the concept of "legal and fixed residence" had focused on the key issues.

"But it should be further clarified," Yu told China Daily yesterday. "For example, should a long-time rented house be termed a 'fixed residence'?"

"And methods to prevent property speculation should also be considered."

China has been trying to reform the household registration system since 1991.

Despite little headway by the central government, local governments have taken steps to improve the situation.

Twelve provincial-level areas, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong and Guangdong, have launched trial reforms that will put an end to the differentiation between rural and urban residents.

In Shandong, since late 2004, couples no longer face such barriers as age or marriage length to be together in one place, and aged parents can move in freely with their children, and unmarried children can also join their parents without age limitations. 

Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province is also initiating trial reforms in its household registration system, and aims to have them fully implemented by the end of the year.

However, Wang Taiyuan, a professor with the Chinese People's University of Public Security, said it is impossible for the hukou reform to have a unified timetable nationwide.

"Due to the unbalanced economic development, even if the State Council implements the ministry's proposal nationwide, measures will have to be taken by local departments according to their own circumstances," Wang was quoted as saying.

"The main thing first of all is to endow citizens equal rights to freely choose to settle or not to settle in a place," he said.

"Then they can be given their due rights to labor or other activities in the places they stay, and finally enjoy related political, economic and cultural rights like other urbanites."

(China Daily May 24, 2007)

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