China is working to reform its two-tiered household registration system amid growing calls to allow freer migration between cities and the countryside.
"We've been all along studying and pushing ahead the reform," said Wu Heping, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security.
The goal is to establish a unified household registration system, ease the restrictions on migration to eventually lead to a rational and orderly flow of the population, he said.
Under the guidance of the State Council, China's Cabinet, consultations are continuing among 14 ministries including Wu's, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Wu was quoted Tuesday by the Chinese-language Chengdu Commercial Daily as saying.
According to him, a circular of suggestions for the change has been drafted, and pilot reforms have been carried out in some areas.
China's household registration system, set up in 1958, divides the population into rural households and non-rural households, and individual interests and rights, such as education, healthcare, housing and employment, are linked to the household registration.
Under the system, rural citizens have no access to social welfare in cities, even though they may live and work there.
However, since the adoption of the reform and opening-up policy, China has witnessed a huge migration of rural labor to urban areas in search of work.
"The system, once playing an important role as a basic data provider and for identification registration, has become neither scientific nor rational given the irresistible trend of migration, " said Prof. Duan Chengrong, director of the Research Center for Population and Development under the Renmin University of China.
It now to some extent stands in the way of the country's urbanization, which is essential to China's modernization.
According to a 2007 poll by China's leading news portal Sina.com and China Youth Daily, 92 percent of the 11,168 respondents said the system was in need of reform.
More than 53 percent said restrictive policies attached to the system, such as limits on access to education, healthcare, employment and social insurance should be eliminated. More than 38 percent called for the system to be scrapped entirely.
Experts, however, warned against scrapping the system entirely for fear of causing social unrest, saying the government should gradually change the current system to a unified household registration system.
Wu declined to give a specific timetable for a breakthrough in the reform. "The rural-urban division cannot be expected to be eliminated at one stroke, and that's where the difficulty of the registration system reform lies."
(Xinhua News Agency March 4, 2008)