Marriage law plans fail to address concubines

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 March, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 March, 2001, 12:00am

More than 2,400 letters from the public responding to draft amendments to the Marriage Law were received by the Legal Work Committee of the National People's Congress ahead of yesterday's deadline.

The letters included feedback from citizens aged from 11 to 90, the China Youth Daily said. More active discussions and heated debates were held online.

Most letters concerned concubines, or bao er nai (second wives) - a social phenomenon that has become increasingly rampant among prosperous men in the boom provinces and corrupt government officials. But few solutions have been suggested in the draft amendment.

One woman said on the People's Daily online chat room she was unhappy that the amendments did not propose making bao er nai illegal. She said the amendments did not offer any specific or effective measures to protect the interests of women, who hoped the new amendments would help bring misbehaving husbands into line.

'Cohabitation before or outside of marriage should be made illegal,' said Liu Li, a marriage law expert from the Marriage and Family Association in Xian.

Wu Changzhen and Yang Dawen, professors at the People's University and chief consultants to the amendments, also joined in the online discussion organised by the All China Women's Federation. They explained the technical difficulties in outlawing concubinage and why few changes - other than financial compensation for divorced women - had been put forward.

'Bigamy should be dealt with by criminal law, while marriage law should deal with civil issues,' Professor Wu said.

Another hot topic is domestic violence. The amendments failed to come up with any tougher measures to protect women from abuse at home.

'As a civil law, it can only prohibit domestic violence as a general rule,' Professor Wu said. 'Other responsibilities have to be dealt with by criminal law or by administrative functions.'

Many people laughed at a clause that said couples should be 'loyal and helpful' to each other. 'It goes without saying that spouses should be loyal and helpful to each other. But what can the law do if they are not,' one online participant said.

Ms Wu said the clause promoted family values and was contained in the marriage laws of several Western countries.